Iain McIver, owner of Santana Kennels, was burned and hospitalized, but not before he rescued the 51 dogs and 10 cats entrusted to his care.
"Iain McIver is an absolute hero. He managed to save them all," said Carla Martinelli of the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, which had 15 dogs boarded at the shelter.
"That guy is just a saint."
McIver and three employees were getting ready to open the kennel at about 9:30 a.m. when they noticed flames in the wooden roof of the building, said McIver's son-in-law, Brent Tully.
McIver quickly gathered his staff and started to pull squirming, yelping pets from the smoky building, which is just west of Winnipeg on the Perimeter Highway.
Passersby and family members living next to the kennel rushed to help, chasing escaped dogs, tying them, or locking them in vehicles.
"There was kind of a human assembly line just passing animals along out of the kennels," said Martinelli.
Tully said many panicked animals tried to run back into the burning kennel and resisted rescue attempts. Seven people, including an RCMP officer, were bitten.
McIver was burned when he chased a dog that had darted into the flames. After ensuring all animals were safe, he was taken by ambulance to the Grace Hospital with second-degree burns to his head and arm.
He was treated and released several hours later.
Martinelli said McIver will feel the effects of the blaze for a long time.
"You know what, you look into this man's face, and there's pain, but there's also relief," she said. "He just kept saying 'I hope everyone's OK, I hope everyone's OK.'"
All animals apparently survived the fire, although a cat is still missing.
An initial estimate from the fire commissioner's office puts the damage to the 720-square-metre kennel at "$1 million plus." The kennel was insured.
Santana Kennels bills itself as Manitoba's most spacious indoor-outdoor kennels. The kennels offer a luxurious environment for pampered pets that includes VIP rooms for dogs complete with a couch, TV, VCR, stereo and private outdoor yard.
"We have preliminary indications that the fire started in the northwest corner of the building, that's where the crematorium is located," said RCMP Sgt. Doug Sproule. He said foul play is not suspected.
Volunteer firefighters from both Rosser and Stony Mountain rushed to the scene to fight the flames, but the building was left as a charred shell with only walls standing.
Sproule said that, although no animals were killed in the blaze, three dogs initially escaped and were later found.
"That is actually phenomenally lucky, as far as I'm concerned," said Sproule.
'Didn't even believe her'
Teresa McIver, 16, whose parents own the kennels and live beside them, watched firefighters battle the flames. A small pink leash was clutched in her hands.
"I just woke up and my sister was like 'the kennel's on fire,'" she said. "And I didn't even believe her, I just rolled over."
"The wind sure made the fire take off quickly. It tore all the way down (the kennels)," she added.
Twenty seven animals were taken to nearby Seneca Kennels to be housed temporarily.
"We're very swamped," said Margaret Peterson, an employee at Seneca.The remaining animals had gone home or to friends and relatives of the owners.
One dog was taken to the McPhillips Animal Hospital with burns, but the rest of the animals had minor injuries at most, Peterson said.
At Seneca, several dogs were shaken up.
A small cocker spaniel cowered in the back corner of his kennel, shaking uncontrollably.
It was only with the most persistent urging that he crawled forward and lightly licked an offered finger.
A Dalmatian labeled as having breathing difficulties by one of two vets brought in by Seneca stood heaving slightly in the middle of his cage.
His coat, normally a glowing white, was dusty gray spotted with black.
He looked at Seneca workers with red-rimmed eyes.
Animal owners arrived at Seneca in a steady stream, teary-eyed and full of hope that their animals would be waiting for them.
Wenda Engel, who had left her dog Orchid at Santana while taking her other dogs to a show over the weekend, said her dogs know Santana's kennels well.
Martinelli said the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter is in need of immediate foster homes for their dogs now that their boarding home is gone. The shelter can be reached at 832-7387.