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The House That Irma Built: How A Hurricane Changed Our Home

The House That Irma Built: How a Hurricane Changed Our Home
 By Dr. Ian Kupkee

What could possibly be more important?
I thought my
wife was playing Pokemon Go.
We had been in Ireland for several days, visiting
the neolithic monuments of County Meath. The summer's caseload had been
especially gruelling; the restorative hush bought by stone circles, holy wells
and fairy trees was exactly what my ragged spirit needed. The nights, however,
were for Dublin. If there was live music and free wi-fi, we were there - me with
my pint, my wife with her phone, tapping...tapping... tapping.
I was less than
thrilled. But it was her vacation too. In fact, it was her birthday. And at the
end of the day, a happy wife means a happy life. That said, I was beginning to
feel as if there were three of us on this trip - myself, my bride, and Mr. Mime!
We'd spent all summer looking forward to this trip - what could possibly be more
"You guys must be freaking out!"
When we
finished exploring ancient sites, we joined a tour group in Dublin. A tour of
the city filled most of the day. Our guide enthralled us with tales of Viking
raiders, Celtic warriors, martyred patriots, and of course, the subject of one
of Ireland's most beloved folk songs, sweet Molly Malone. (Apparently, the
real-life Molly was…"lady of the night." Who knew?) Our guide
offered to snap some pictures, but my other half was forever lagging behind,
enraptured by the ever-present phone. I decided to talk to her about it over
By the time the tour ended, the group had started to relax, and
introductions were being made. A boisterous gentleman in a baseball cap, clasped
my hand and asked me where I was from. When I said, "Miami", his eyes widened.
"Whoa!" he gasped. "You guys must be freaking out!"
Perplexed, I turned to
Lynn. "About….?"
Cap Guy still had my hand in a death grip. "The Category 5
hurricane that's headed your way! That thing's a monster!!"
For what felt like
the first time in a week, Lynn put down her phone. "I was going to talk to you
about it over dinner," she sighed, looking suddenly exhausted. "But...yeah. It's
a monster. And it's headed our way."
I no longer cared about Mr. Mime. I was
freaking out.
"Forget the cone. We have a plan"
Sensing my state of mind, Lynn suggested we proceed to Emergency Management
Headquarters (read, the nearest pub), so she could bring me up to speed. It
might not hit as a Cat 5, and landfall was anyone's guess. But it was going to
be bad.
"Bad as in, we might be in the cone?" I asked. She started to say
something, then stopped. "Forget the cone," she answered matter-of-factly."We
have a plan. I've been back and forth with Tiffany (our head nurse) and we made
some executive decisions. I also had the bank give her the extra house keys from
our safe deposit box, and I gave her the alarm code to the house. Her husband's
between contracts, so he storm proofed the house. We'll owe him money, but
that's fine. The house is secured. Now for the clinic…"
While we waited for
Mr. Guinness and Mr. Jameson to arrive at the meeting, I was briefed on the
preparations that were made while I was enjoying my vacation. Extra water was
ordered. Extra pet food was on the way. They had shut down boarding - travel
plans had been scrapped anyway, and the whole area floods. I was reminded of
the catfish that swam into the clinic from the parking lot after Hurricane
No boarding. Good call.
The house's generator was better than the
clinic's, so perishable medications and vaccines were being transported there. A
skeleton crew was assembled in the event some of our employees would be forced
to stay home after the storm. They set up a way to take credit card payments via
Square. If that system was down, they were ready to go old school. Computers?
Useless. They had printed out price sheets and were practicing making carbon
copied invoices. Lynn had cancelled all the pre-scheduled social media posts
and was keeping clients up to speed.
From Ireland.
"Oh!" she added. "I also
hacked into your Google Drive account, updated the hurricane prep article from
last year, scrounged up a different picture, and sent it to Brian at NBC 6. So
that's running. I posted some preparation tips on Nextdoor…"
"Wait," my head
was spinning, and not from the Guinness. "You hacked...when did…?"
She nearly
choked on her drink as she shook her phone in my face. "What do you think I've
been doing with this thing?!" she howled. "Catching Mr. Mime?!"
Indeed, the
force of nature in that cozy little pub had a plan. Hurricane Irma had no idea
what she was up against.
Sweet Molly Malone
Our next
hotel was in a far-flung, pastoral village, light years from the whirlwind that
is Dublin. Upon hearing of the guests from Miami, the proprietor quietly pulled
Lynn aside and pointed her to a single chair in the corner of the lobby. From
there, she could get enough of a wifi signal to "watch the wee hurricane." I
knew I would find her there early the next morning. The 11 p.m. advisory had
probably been out for an hour. I had only to look at her face to know the news
was not good.
"So?" I asked, bracing for the worst. "How screwed are we?"
sighed as she handed me her phone. "Think Sweet Molly Malone.
Still a Cat 5,
Irma had made the turn no one in Miami wanted to see.
"We've just
been evacuated."

Breakfast. Silence.
Packing. Silence.
Checkout. Silence.
 The satellite image of "the wee hurricane" had smothered
all words, leaving what little air remained hanging thick with dread. As we sat
on the bus, waiting for stragglers, a breath of a wifi signal wafted in with the
morning mist. Jarred into life, our phones suddenly clamored for our attention.
The messages from friends in Irma's path came flooding in.
"Been here before.
But this one scares me." 
"Stuck in a gas line. No water. Evac routes
"Those of you with God in your lives, please make contact now."
And perhaps the most heartbreaking, "I feel like nowhere is safe. I'm 40 years
old, I'm raising two kids, and all I want is for a grown up to tell me what I
should do."
Then came the message from our head nurse, Tiffany - our general
whose boots on the ground had secured both our home and our business:
just been evacuated."
The bus ambled into gear, severing the invisible cord
connecting us to the people we loved. Our phones went blank as the outside world
was left behind in the mist.
"You will die in your

Our next stop was a ruined monastery called Glendalough.
"I'll catch up," Lynn clipped as she hopped off the bus. "You can fill me in on
the history after I find a signal."
I hyperfocused on the guide's presentation
in the hopes of quieting my churning thoughts. Glendalough means place of two
lakes. It was founded by St. Kevin, a mystic of sorts who is known as the patron
saint of blackbirds. Its iconic stone tower served as a place of refuge from
regular Viking raids...
A place of refuge.
I was gawking skyward at the
towering fortress when Lynn caught up with the group. She was expressionless,
nodding as I gave her the short version of St. Kevin's bug-out station. "What's
the status back home?" I asked.
"Panic. Paralysis. Most of the staff's been
told to evacuate. Ditto for their families. They have nowhere to go. The whole
state's under threat, no one knows where it's going to make landfall, and even
if they did, it's taking people five hours to drive to Broward. Some of the guys
are talking about going to Tampa, Ormond Beach, Jacksonville - they won't make
it. They'll die in their cars."
"So what did you tell them?"
"'You will die in
your cars.'"
"Please tell me you put some lipstick on that." 
Nope. But I told
them we'd think of something."
"Have you thought of something?"
"Nope." She
sighed as she frowned across the toppled stones. "We need another plan."

Saint Kevin and the Blackbird
We were left on our own
to explore the moss-hewn monuments of St. Kevin's legacy. While other matters
loomed in the forefront of my mind, thoughts of the eccentric monk rattled
around in some unused nook of my brain. Despite more pressing concerns, I found
myself liking the guy. He felt most at home in nature. He had a soft spot for
animals, which they seemed to sense. Yet when he would emerge from solitude he
was a force to be reckoned with, a builder of the fortress known far and wide
across the medieval world.
I never understood the concept of praying to saints
- perhaps I'm still missing the point. But in that helpless moment, I needed to
talk to a friend. And strangely, I felt like I'd found one in St. Kevin. So in
that quiet corner of my brain, I had a talk with the patron saint of blackbirds.
He'd sheltered many frightened souls from danger - surely a hurricane was
something he could handle. I needed some advice from an expert. I needed a plan.
I stared dumbly into the tumble of rocks at my feet, as if hoping the answer
was spelled out in tree roots, or carried by the voices of brambles and
blackbirds. I heard only our tour guide as she gathered her charges, reminding
us we had run out of time.
Out of time. No help. No answers.
As I turned to
go, a blackbird feather hovered briefly on the cusp of a breeze, then came to
rest in my line of sight at the foot of the silent stones.
practically a fortress."

By nightfall, news of "the wee
hurricane" in the U.S. was the lead story on every newscast in every local pub.
We had our dinner in one of them, a local watering hole with a chatty barkeep
who took great pride in relating the building's long history. Weather, age and
fire all had roles in the story, but where some saw ruin, others had seen
opportunities. The proprietor was especially proud of the roof. "Don't let the
weathered shingles fool you," he beamed. "It's practically a fortress!"
could relate. We'd lived in our house for just two years, and at the time of
purchase, it needed some work. A LOT of work. Between the roof, the doors, the
windows, the fence, the garage doors, the generator - the parade of workmen
seemed endless. But by the time the literal dust had cleared the finished
product was -
I stopped in mid-sentence as the same thought struck us both at
the same time. "Which zones were evacuated?" I asked Lynn.
"A, B, and parts of
We were in D. "You know", I offered, "they've got the key and the alarm
code anyway…."
She took the ball and ran with it. "The roof is new, there's a
generator, impact glass, the garage doors are storm rated. The place is…"
finished the sentence for her. "Practically a fortress."
Lynn turned to the
barkeep. "What's your name again?"
"Of course it is," she smiled.
"Tell you what, Paddy. If I can borrow your wifi password, we'll keep ordering
Life charged through her phone. Soon the peat-scented air of the pub
hummed with the sound of clinking glasses, fresh energy, and a crackling fire.
And while in hindsight, I realize it was probably the Guinness talking, I could
have sworn I heard St. Kevin laugh.
"Ding dong, grown-up

The next two days were filled with nearly non-stop
communications with Tiffany. Looking back at some of those messages, I have to
"Our house isn't childproofed. Lock the cabinets, hide the shotgun."
"Got it. We locked up the axe as well."
"Whoa. Forgot about the axe. Good
"Jose's dad is getting dialysis the morning it's supposed to hit. Then
he's driving back to Homestead."
"The hell he is! Tell him he's staying at our
"So I invited the admin from one of my Facebook groups. And her family.
They're nice - you'd like them. Kids are keeping the dogs happy. Husband lowered
the water level in your pool. And put oil in the generator."
Generators use
oil? Awesome. Tell him thank you. And nice to meet him. Sort of."
"Pool fence
down. Dog fell in. Had to dive in to get her. Glad I brought extra clothes."
One in particular jumped out at me. It was to the friend who lamented that at
age 40, she needed a grown up to tell her what to do.
"Ding dong!" Lynn wrote,
"Grown up calling! Pack up your man, your kids and your dogs. You're staying at
our place. Call Tiff for details. Bring toilet paper."
"Not that it matters," I
mused at one point, "but exactly how many people are we taking in?"
She took a
deep breath and studied me with that look which told me I was better off without
the details. "Well," she ventured, "remember the plaque we bought on our last
trip to Ireland? The one that says '100,000 Welcomes' in Gaelic?"
I was stunned
into silence. Then, for the first time in a week, I laughed.

hundred thousand welcomes

As expected, the Irish blessing cead
mile failte was a bit much. But the spirit of it was alive and well at Casa
Kupkee. The final head count was eighteen people, ranging in age from two to
eighty-something. Some had known each other all their lives, others had just
met, thrown together by the winds of storm and circumstance. With them they
brought their humor, their fears, their abuelas, their dogs, and enough alcohol
to rival the storm surge from which they fled.
As they hunkered down, the mood
of the messages changed from readiness to resolve. Did we have any dice? Playing
cards? And how psyched were the kids to discover our nephew's Minions
dinnerware! Our dogs made the rounds of the many laps from which they had to
choose, and frolicked with the nine other dogs, who like their owners, now found
themselves part of an unexpected pack. Surprisingly, they all seemed to roll
with it, the only infraction having been committed by own young dachshund, who
deftly pilfered a Cuban galleta from our youngest house guest's little hand.
Our refugees treated us to news from the front, and photographs of our kitchen,
now piled high with enough non-perishables to feed a small battalion. Tiffany's
daughter gifted us with a drawing of a blackbird flying under a rainbow - which
looked remarkably like a hurricane hunter aircraft charging through a wind speed
What's that expression? Out of the mouths of babes? The crayons spoke a
thousand words, none of which seemed to speak of dread or fear. Indeed the
pictures sent to us seemed to portray the mood of a party rather than that of an
impending natural disaster. As we stood on Galway's high street, the strains of
"Blooming Heather" echoed through the damp air, courtesy of an especially
talented busker. We thought of our guests - St. Kevin's modern day blackbirds,
having found both roost and refuge half a world away. We had no idea what we
would go home to, if anything. Yet somehow, we felt the sense of peace which
comes from knowing all is unfolding exactly as it should.
serious cleanup

Over the next few days, reports came less
frequently and with less urgency. While other parts of the state had been far
less lucky, our beloved Miami had survived. We were told to brace ourselves for
some serious cleanup. Our neighborhood was thrashed by tornadoes - we would
return to a yard and street that looked like a giant salad gone wrong. But our
house and our clinic were still standing. Our dogs and our loved ones were safe.
As power was restored, and roads were cleared, our guests began trickling out of
our home and back into a semblance of their normal lives. By the time door was
locked for the last time, the house was cleaner than we had left it. Eighteen
people and eleven dogs had left behind nothing but letters of thanks, and a
fully stocked pantry. "Wow!" Lynn marvelled as she surveyed the shelves. "They
brought the good toilet paper!" There were steaks in the freezer, clean sheets
on the beds, and a boatload of leftover alcohol.
They had brought the good
liquor as well.
But our trip was not over just yet. It was finally time to
enjoy Ireland. And the first order of business was some hard core shopping for
thank you gifts!
"Make that the second order of business," Lynn quipped as she
headed for the hotel lobby. She was back within minutes, triumphant and smug.
Mr. Mime had joined the party at last.
As we crammed our suitcases
full of souvenirs, Game Of Thrones kitsch, fairy garden furniture, and snarky
t-shirts, Lynn pulled out a gift she had picked especially for Tiffany. On a
ceramic Christmas tree ornament, an Irish blessing professed the musing of a
wise, yet unknown soul:
"May the roof above us never fall in,
And may the
friends gathered below it never fall out."
I let it sink in before saying the
only words that came to mind. "It's perfect."
"Not quite." Lynn scowled as she
pulled a marker from her purse. She wrote something on the back of the ornament,
then handed it back to me. "Now, it's perfect."
Painfully neat and tastefully
small, the note read:
 2017: The House That Irma Built
Dr. Kupkee is the lead
practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

A blackbird, a rainbow, and Mr. Mime

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