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Animal clinic burned in Almeda fire set for reopening

Four months after its building was leveled by the Almeda fire, the Phoenix Animal Hospital will be back in service next week, albeit a few miles north of its longtime home.

Clinic owner and veterinarian Glen Winters and his staff will reopen the animal hospital Jan. 25 in temporary quarters inside the Winco shopping center off Barnett Road. Winters said he and his family and staff have spent the past four months processing the devastation of the fires, facilitating immediate and long-term recovery plans and working with insurance claims, lawyers and vendors to secure a temporary home and eventual replacement at its former location.

Community support and donations, Winters said, were a driving force behind the decision to rebuild, hopefully by spring 2022.

Winters, who bought the clinic in 2014, said it’s still hard to process 30-foot flames destroying the animal hospital.

“It was just a regular day. We heard about a fire that had started in Ashland, but I remember thinking, ‘Boy, it would have to go through Ashland and Talent and Phoenix. ... It’s not going to make it all the way here,’” Winters said.

“I got a phone call from my wife and she told me about a fire burning in Ashland. But I told her it would be fine. She called back a couple hours later and said, ‘You all need to leave. I’m watching a live feed from the top of the (Rogue Valley) Manor and there are 30-foot flames heading north up the I-5 corridor.’ We started evacuating patients and we were able to get all the animals out except for two.”

Leaving the building as flames and smoke were engulfing nearby apartment complexes, businesses and mobile home parks, Winters assumed his business on the opposite side of the freeway would be spared.

“We had two pets left in the building, a 38-pound tortoise and a dog, whose owners couldn’t get to us because they were being turned away. We loaded them up and our employees took them to where they could be picked up by their owners,” he said.

“I took out my phone and took some photos for insurance before I locked the door. It’s strange to think that I locked a door that doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember thinking, ‘We’re going to be OK. We’ll be back here tomorrow.’”

Winters said the scene at 3 p.m. in Phoenix was dire as he left the clinic.

“When I left the building I couldn’t see across the street, there was so much smoke. The fire trucks were in retreat and everyone was just leaving the area,” he said.

“At about 5 p.m. that day, my phone went off and the smoke detectors had detected smoke inside the building. I told my wife, ‘The building just caught fire.’”

With so many structures destroyed, planning cleanup efforts and a new building will be a slow and taxing process between insurance paperwork and county planning delays. Setting into the former home of Valley Immediate Care, Winters said the space was better suited than most of his options.

“I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but it’s all set up for medical use so that was really helpful for us. It has an X-ray room, a procedures room for surgery, exam rooms,” he said.

Eventual plans call for a 4,000-square-foot space on the charred almost-acre parcel. The original building was 2,300 square feet, Winters said, “bursting at the seams” as the clinic had grown exponentially and was a major provider of spay and neuter for both Jackson County Animal Services and other local organizations. Plans call to increase capacity from three to five exam rooms and to hire additional staff — up to eight support staff and two more veterinarians.

Surveying the new digs, Winters said there was a certain comfort in knowing the community had helped make reopening possible, offering up everything from office supplies, blankets and towels to cash.

A trio of local veterinary clinics — A Street, West Main and Siskiyou Veterinary — stepped in to help treat clients and provide prescriptions and other needs. Winters said the effort showed the camaraderie between local clinics, over competition.

“We had businesses make cash donations. Sign Dude donated signs. The Red Cross helped financially. Providence Hospital reached out and said, ‘Do you need chairs?’” Winters said.

“When the community helps you come back from something like this, everyone comes back stronger than before.”

Jackson County Animal Services Director Kim Casey said reopening of Winter’s clinic was important to the community, with the Phoenix Animal Hospital being “an important partner” for county animal services.

The clinic, at its peak, provided up to 28 spay and neuter surgeries a day. Since the fire, said office manager Brittney Gilman, she’s fielded dozens of messages from community members rooting for the clinic’s recovery.

“A lot of people are eager for us to get back. Even on day one, right after the fires, one of our clients — someone who had lost everything they owned including their truck and all their work tools — showed up on Dr. Winters’ door and said, ‘What can I do to help you?’” Gilman said.

“We are so grateful to have such amazing clients and an amazing community behind us. It’s all been really overwhelming, but we’re almost finally there.”

More info is online at phoenixanimalhospital.com and on the clinic’s Facebook.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Veterinarian Glen Winters and his son Connor Winters, 10, visit the former site of his animal hospital on South Pacific Highway, where only the sign survived the Almeda fire. Ground has already been cleared to make way for a bigger hospital on the same site. Photo by Denise Baratta