Every day is different for Dr. Michelle Tuma as she cares for the 80 animals left behind in an evacuated city. Deemed an essential worker, she is the only practicing veterinarian in not just Yellowknife but all of the Northwest Territories.
On August 16, 20,000 residents were forced to leave Yellowknife as flames from a wildfire grew closer. It was one of many communities in the north that saw people packing up their belongings and heading south.
Dr. Tuma is currently the only practicing vet in the N.W.T.
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Most residents were able to bring their pets with no restrictions. Dr. Tuma jokes that's a good thing because half the city wouldn't otherwise leave.
Meanwhile, in Montana, logistics expert and disaster responder Maggie McGuane was keeping an eye on the wildfires in Canada from her home south of the border. She has spent years helping to get animals out of disaster areas, beginning with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She also happens to be the daughter of Margot Kidder, who famously played Lois Lane alongside Christopher Reeves in four Superman films. Kidder was born in Yellowknife, and before she died, she requested that some of her ashes be spread there.
"I spent my entire life hearing about Yellowknife from my mom," McGuane said. "It was a place that was really special to her."
Margot Kidder, who famously played Lois Lane, seen here with her daughter, Maggie McGuane.
McGuane found out that Yellowknife has an SPCA and picked up the phone to ask how she could help. Dr. Tuma was thrilled to have her expertise, and together they worked on a plan to get the animals out.
"[McGuane] reached out and just said, 'I'm here to support however you need me to'," recounted Dr. Tuma.
McGuane's connections included Tito's Vodka, which donated $10,000 to secure a flight.
But this story of generosity doesn't end here. Buffalo Airways, which operates out of the north, swooped in to take the shelter animals out before McGuane could do it. Dr. Tuma explained that there were still some pets that needed to be reunited with their owners, and lucky for them, there was a plane ready to do just that. Thanks to McGuane's connections, Wings of Rescue picked up 16 cats and dogs and flew them to Calgary and Vancouver, where they could be with their owners.
There are some animals that remain still; fish, rabbits, and birds are among them. These are the creatures Dr. Tuma is keeping an eye on while their owners are away.
In the end, it was a collection of volunteers, airlines, a vodka company, a movie star's daughter, and a veterinary specialist who helped make sure that a menagerie in a northern Canadian city was saved.
If you'd like to help, donations can be made to vetswithoutborders.ca.