Twelve dogs saved from a kennel that had quickly filled with smoke from a broken oil burner were returned to the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton this week, according to one of the four employees who helped rescue them.
Just before 8 a.m. on Feb. 23, Alexa Unger, a kennel attendant at the shelter, had come running into the nearby animal clinic.
The kennel, in which 12 dogs awaiting adoption were being kept, was filled with smoke, she said.
Barbara Wansor and Jennifer Conner, two veterinary technicians at the clinic, rushed to the nearby kennel. When they arrived they saw clouds of black smoke billowing out of the building’s chimney, Wansor said.
“Part of me said, ‘Barbara, you shouldn’t go in there,’ but I knew there were animals in there that needed to be saved,” said Wansor, 36, of Yaphank.
Upon entering the kennel, the vet techs were met by a “big black wall of smoke” and the howls of the dogs trapped inside their cages. With the help of Unger and another Kent employee, Kimberly Russell, they carefully moved through the building, unlocked the cage doors and began leading the scared mutts out of the smoke-filled kennel.
It took the four employees about 20 minutes to get most of the dogs out of the building before the Riverhead Fire Department arrived to retrieve the remaining dogs.
According to the Riverhead Fire Department, the smoke was emitted from a faulty oil burner.
The employees were taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center as a precaution and were released later that day.
The dogs were treated for smoke inhalation at Riverhead Animal Hospital and were kept there until the kennel was professionally cleaned, on Monday. Wansor said the “white dogs had turned gray” with soot and were a “little shaken up,” but otherwise are fine.
“Those girls are heroes because they went in to get those dogs even though they really didn’t know what they were running into,” said Pam Green, the shelter’s executive director.
Green added that they were “very fortunate” that there was no fire and that there weren’t more dogs in the kennel, which can house as many as 35 dogs and typically cares for about 25 dogs at a time.