The Perspective
Dr. Lawrence Sands

Local volunteer receives national recognition

Susan Vondracek, a licensed veterinary technician, received national recognition from the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) for her response efforts during the Christmastime flooding in Mesquite and the avalanche warnings on Mt. Charleston.

The Outstanding MRC Responder award honors volunteers who have played an instrumental role in responding to a disaster or public health emergency, and Susan’s work with emergency management personnel and animal control staff to help displaced pets during the emergency made her a prime candidate.

“Within one hour of receiving a request for veterinary volunteers to assist in staffing a mobile pet shelter in response to severe flooding, Susan was ready to travel the 80 miles in torrential rain to assist,” said Paula Martel, MRC coordinator. “She quickly and efficiently prepared the mobile pet clinic to receive pets of flood victim evacuees, who were co-located in the American Red Cross shelter.

Animal control officers depended on Susan to manage the shelter while they provided search and rescue or other missions. Two days later, Susan staffed the mobile pet shelter when it was moved to accept the pets of evacuees of a mountain area that was without power and under an avalanche warning.”

During an interview, Susan talked about her community involvement and her affinity towards four-legged creatures.

Question: How long have you been a volunteer with MRC?

SV: About five years. I learned about MRC when I attended a preparedness exercise that offered free microchipping. There was a small veterinary component when I first joined, but it has since grown. Much of the recruiting is word of mouth.

The people involved with MRC make all the difference in the world. Their passion is contagious. The MRC staff and Dr. Pennell, the founding member of the veterinary group, are mentors to me.

How often do you volunteer with the MRC?

SV: I attend several events a year. Of course, I prefer to attend those involving pets. We have a pet preparedness display and distribute educational information about caring for pets during a disaster.

In 2010, I received the first-ever distress call for vet assistance. There was flooding in Mesquite and avalanche threats at Mount Charleston. After animal control established a mobile shelter for displaced animals, I tended to the shelter while they responded to calls.

Is this the event for which you were nominated?

SV: Yes. My first time responding, and I receive an award.

What was your response when you received word about the award?

SV: I thought Paula was joking. When I finally realized she was serious, I felt horrible because I couldn’t attend the ceremony. I was not prepared to receive an award for being prepared!

How long have you been working with animals?

SV: Since I was 16 years old. I started working as a kennel assistant for a small rural veterinary practice. Eventually, I was cross-trained in other functions, and then sought out formal training years later.

You obviously love animals. Do you have any at home?

SV: I have a “zoo” at home. All of the animals have come through animal control, unclaimed by their owners. My plethora of critters includes dogs, lizards, tarantulas, a cat, geckos, a California King snake and fire belly toads.

Since you have seen so many pets go through animal control, what advice do you have for potential pet owners?

SV: Educate yourself about whatever pet you want to get, especially the exotic animals. Some people don’t realize that a $10 gecko requires a large tank with a heating element for a long, healthy life. Or, someone may love Dalmatians because they are so pretty—not realizing that they are high energy dogs that require a lot of activity and attention.

Once you decide what type of animal is best suited for your lifestyle, be sure to visit the shelters first. Many people don’t realize that the shelters have more than just dogs and cats; they also take in birds, rodents, rabbits, guinea pigs and more.

For what other agencies do you volunteer?

SV: I help out at the coroner’s office since they have limited staffing, and I ride-along with animal control to “shadow” them and help out when needed.

Diet Myth 1

The Medical Reserve Corps of Southern Nevada (MRC) is a volunteer organization of active, inactive and retired health care or veterinary professionals and others who can be rapidly mobilized to strengthen our medical response capability during large-scale local emergencies. Members of MRC are pre-identified and prepared to respond to small public health events or large-scale emergencies. They also provide first aid, blood pressure checks and educational outreach during community events. For more information, go to

Table of Contents | Read Next Story | Subscribe

The Perspective Footer