Only 16 animals survived the fire at Tucumcari Animal Hospital on Monday, and now the community is coming together to show support for the veterinarian who cared for their animals for years.
"We had two rooms fully engulfed," Tucumcari Fire Chief Mike Cherry stated. "It's a block building, so there's extreme heat and smoke damage through the rest of it. So, the building's probably a total loss."
Much more than the building was lost. Animals- both family pets and strays that Dr. Jean Corey had rescued from shelters- died of suffocation.
"Primarily, we have dogs and cats although we had a couple of rabbits and a couple of birds," Dr. Corey said. "At this point, there were 66 animals that were lost."
As if that were not disheartening enough, investigators said the circumstances of the fire are suspicious and New Mexico State Police are thinking it may be related to two recent fires which have been deemed arsons.
"If it was set intentionally, it is a felony in the state of New Mexico," Lt. Lance Bateman said. "We're also looking in this fire that we lost 50+ animals. They could be charged with one count of animal abuse, the death of an animal which I believe is a fourth degree felony in New Mexico. You know, they could ultimately be charged with as many animals as they killed."
Lt. Bateman added the help of the community could result in quicker answers. Police are asking people to come forward with any information related to the fire, and to keep their eyes open for anything suspicious.
"You know, it starts with a building, moves on to a building where animals are killed and next, you know, it could be a human being. So, we're taking this very seriously and we're going to follow all leads until we catch the person."
As for Dr. Corey, she is hanging in there. But as most would imagine, losing all the animals she put her heart and soul into helping has made this experience difficult for her to bear. She is now going through the process of burying the animals.
"I'm pretty much a person that stays at something until it gets done. I guess I'm just going to go after it."
But she is not going through this battle alone. Members of the community have gone to the shelter and have embraced Dr. Corey with hugs, tears and words of thanks and encouragement.
"The support of the community's going to help a lot," she said, "and I need it. I mean, it's going to be a big undertaking no matter what I do."
The community has set up a crisis fund at Citizens Bank located at 211 E. Main Street. Donations can be made to Dr. Corey through the Tucumcari Animal Hospital account.
Dunn Funeral Home has offered its services for a memorial service in remembrance of the animals. June 2 is the proposed date for the service, but it has not been set in stone, yet. More information about the service can be found on the New Mexico Volunteer Animal Rescue Facebook page.