Kennel owner saves all dogs in his care: 'I give them my word that these dogs are going to be safe'

Collin Martineau, left, and friend Floyd Stenneche used a buddy’s military truck to return to Martineau’s family business, a kennel on land between the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers south of Waterloo. The big truck did the trick. By the end of the day, all dogs were present and accounted for.

One by one, Collin Martineau hurried dogs to his F-150, shoved them into crates and locked the doors. When the truck was full, he splashed south to Pacific Street. That’s when he got scared.

The floodwaters, unleashed by a broken levee Friday morning, were 2½ feet high and rising. The current pushed his truck toward the edge of the road. Martineau could get these animals to safety. But what about the next load?

“People leave their dogs in my care and I give them my word that these dogs are going to be safe,” said Martineau, 29.

His parents started the Riverside Meadows Pet Motel 43 years ago on the quiet land between the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers south of Waterloo. They built a 3,300-square-foot kennel 4 feet higher than the insurance company required, just in case of a massive flood.

It came Friday, and the Riverside quickly became an island. Martineau, overseeing 38 dogs at the time, started evacuations with the smallest dogs. After his second frightful trip to dry land, he knew the F-150 couldn’t get back to the kennel.

That’s when he phoned a friend. Josh Andersen runs a plumbing company in Waterloo. He owns a military-style truck with 5-foot tires. If anybody could get through the flood, it was Andersen.

They made it back to the pet motel and ushered the last dozen dogs — the big ones — outside into the sunshine. There was Nala and Bear, Dexter and Buddy, Storm and Emmett. Martineau makes a point to learn every name during their stay. (Knowing owner names is optional.)

Martineau didn’t have enough crates, so he tied their leashes to hooks in the truck bed — just in case a black Lab or Australian shepherd got the urge to go swimming.

The camouflaged truck rolled through the water and Martineau couldn’t even see the road. But amid the stress and uncertainty, he noticed something normal — wagging tails. Of course. How often does Emmett the Airedale terrier get a ride in a military truck?

“It was pretty comical considering the situation,” Martineau said.

When they reached Andersen’s heated shop on 252nd Street, Martineau set up shelter for the 38 dogs. He and his girlfriend, who just moved to Omaha last Tuesday, connected with dog owners, many of whom were freaking out — one asked for a helicopter rescue.

Martineau slept Friday night in his truck, then woke up Saturday to find the waters encroaching again. The Platte threatened from the west, the Elkhorn from the east. It was time to move.

Much of the area had evacuated, but Martineau found a few sanctuaries at West Shores. One family took six dogs. A few others took two or three. Martineau moved into a home with five dogs, including one who was too mean for strangers.

Martineau settled in and waited for the waters to recede. By Sunday, he couldn’t wait any longer. The Riverside Meadows Pet Motel is his childhood home and livelihood. He had to know what was left.

He drove his F-150 to the corner of Highway 275 and Pacific Street, pulled out his green kayak and dropped it into the water. He paddled northeast almost a mile. The current was strong in a couple of spots, but otherwise it felt like gliding across a lake. Martineau didn’t see a soul.

“If I fell in the water, there was nobody to pull me out.”

When he reached the kennel, the floors were covered in mud but mostly dry. The damage wasn’t as bad as Martineau feared. He checked on his personal cats in his mother’s house, climbed up to the roof and took video of the surroundings — 360 degrees of water.

Roads and bridges across the Elkhorn River have disappeared. Martineau, who lives in Omaha, doesn’t know how long he’ll be away or how many days he’ll be delivering dog food to strangers’ houses at West Shores.

Martineau knows one thing: He isn’t going home until Emmett does.