The ins and outs of Connecticut’s first animal ambulance

In response to all the damage done by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, Jon Nowinski, veterinary assistant at VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center, founded a volunteer-based community service designed to address the need for an animal emergency response team within the state.  

Since Nowinski founded the Emergency Animal Response Service (EARS) nearly five years ago, he’s added members to his team of skilled volunteers and increased their arsenal of tools used in everyday rescues on animals ranging from cats to horses.

EARS has also joined forces with a number of 24-hour animal hospitals across Connecticut to enable the team to serve communities all around the state when primary care centers are closed or an owner does not have transportation for an animal.

The public service group acquired a retired human ambulance at an auction two years ago, and according to Nowinski, the purchase was a no-brainer.

“Prior to purchasing the ambulance, we primarily used my truck, which has some modifications inside to accommodate the transport of animals but only to an extent,” said Nowinski. “People were able to call in to the vet’s to ask questions, but it was still their responsibility to bring their animal down to their office. We tried to give the pet owners an alternative.”

Nowinski said it has been only within the past 10 years that he’s seen people realize the unique role animals play in families, and it has impacted EARS undeniably.

“We discovered through natural disasters that people were not going to just let their animals go and that the state lacked a service that was designed to rescue animals,” said Nowinsky.

He explained that after the hurricane he’d earned the reputation of being an “animal person” and people he knew who worked in emergency services would call, requesting his assistance.

“When those calls slowed down is when we realized there really is a need for a rapid response team for animals,” said Nowinsky.

First animal ambulance in Connecticut

The ambulance has been modified to act as a critical care unit, which EARS previously lacked. Equipped with a storage compartment that was modified to act as an oxygen chamber for small animals up to 30 pounds, an examination table, and a compartment on the exterior with room for a stretcher, the ambulance is stocked up.

The oxygen chamber works by attaching plastic tubes to the sides of the once storage compartment and is activated by turning on the oxygen source once the glass sliding doors are sealed.

Nowinski said EARS made the best out of what it had and has had good results so far.

“We pretty much took all things needed for any incident that an animal is in critical condition and stocked it into our ambulance,” said Nowinski. “Anything hit by a car, a dog overheating, to a bunch of other bad scenarios we can now handle in transit.”

His truck or vehicle previously used for all rescues features a place to hang oxygen tanks or bags filled with intravenous fluid, but lacks space to “work on” animals once they’re en route to their destination.

EARS is now composed of nearly 15 volunteers who all underwent a minimum of structured pet first aid training.

Each volunteer has his or her own vehicle that on a given day can be used in a rescue call. Nowinski said in most cases they’re using either the ambulance or his own vehicle. During  inclement weather or for a large animal rescue, the team will use his vehicle.  

He explained that all volunteers also come equipped with their own personalized medical kits that they develop over time. Each volunteer’s medical kit depends on the person’s specialty area; Nowinsky carries three different types but has more veterinary items in his.

Given the wide variety of different calls EARS responds to, Nowinsky carries an oxygen kit, first aid kit, and larger first aid kit for wildlife, equipped with thick gloves used for handling stray animals or hawks. According to Nowinsky, injured hawks are the reason for a large number of the calls they respond to. EARS has responded to five or six injured hawk reports this year.

Support from peers

Nowinski said the partnership with local fire departments and the respect given by other first responders are what makes the job that much more rewarding.

“You really have to love the feeling of helping people and their families, because you don’t always receive the most credit. Although since we’ve gotten the ambulance and are responding to more calls, I’ve found that firefighters will pull up next to us or EMTs will tell us how good a job we’re doing and will ask to take a look inside,” said Nowinski. “It’s great.”

Nowinski said that, above all, he wants to raise awareness of the service he and his team offer to the people of Connecticut.

“We want people to know that we’re here and they can call us if they have any questions,” said Nowinski. “You’d be surprised that a lot of people never even think to call an ambulance for their pets. Now they can, and we’d be happy to help where we can.”

Before working at Shoreline, Nowinski said, he worked for two years at a general practice in Stamford, but he said he has since found his true calling.

For more information on the volunteer service or how to get involved, visit To make a donation to the EARS ambulance, visit
Jon Nowinski created the Emergency Animal Response Service (EARS) in 2011 and has since partnered with 24-hour animal hospitals around Connecticut to enable his team to serve communities across the state when primary care centers are closed or an owner does not have transportation for an animal.