December 01, 2005


 Veterinarians sustain services after Hurricane Rita

Organizations provide supplies for animal care to southeast Texas

Posted Nov. 15, 2005

Dr. Albert S. Pugh IV stood watch through the night at his home as Hurricane Rita hit Texas—then helped restore the region's veterinary services, despite the destruction of his clinic. Dr. Richard Reinap returned to town days after evacuating—then cared for more than a hundred animals for a week at a clinic without power.

The Texas VMA and Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine soon sent generators and medical supplies to the hard-hit area in the southeastern section of the state around Beaumont, including the towns of Bridge City and Orange, with funds from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Elbert C. Hutchins, executive director of the TVMA, said the AVMF paid for $8,000 worth of medical supplies from Texas A&M University. The ASPCA provided $50,000 for the purchase of 36 generators and other supplies, with Dr. Dwight W. King of Wharton organizing their delivery to southeast Texas.

Hutchins also took two trips to the area, where he saw some of the damage for himself and talked to some of the veterinarians—including Drs. Pugh and Reinap.  

Riding out the storm 

Dr. Pugh, owner of the Bridge City Animal Hospital, has lived in the area for almost 30 years. Before the hurricane hit, he evacuated all of the boarders from the clinic and many of the boarders from his horse farm.

But his farm still housed about 20 horses, and they were his main concern during the storm. Expecting more rain than wind, he sandbagged the barn.

Then he watched the wind all night from his house, as he collected dripping water in buckets and bowls. Every half-hour, he went outside to see which way the wind was blowing.

Dr. Pugh said winds topped 125 miles per hour. He thinks the eye of the hurricane went over his house at about 4 a.m., when the wind dropped. He went out to the barn to check the horses, only to find out that part of the roof was missing. So he led four horses to another shelter.

"I had to watch out for flying metal," Dr. Pugh said. "We had metal and boards and everything everywhere."

He said the horses were calmer than he expected. However, he had to move the sandbags because they were holding in the rain.

"The next day, it looked like World War III," he said. "It was a disaster zone."

And Dr. Pugh expected more rain. He spent the day salvaging metal and boards to patch the barn with help from family and staff.

"It was interesting working up on the roof with still 40- to 50-mile-per-hour winds," Dr. Pugh said.

They spent the following days repairing the paddocks. After three days, Dr. Pugh was able to visit his clinic. He discovered that the storm had blown the roofs off the hospital and barn, which filled with floodwater and rain. Mold was growing already.

Dr. Pugh turned his efforts to helping coordinate veterinary services in the area. Loose cats and dogs roamed the region, but the biggest problem was the lack of power.

"We got real proficient at how to operate generators, how to set up generators," Dr. Pugh said.

He supplied four hospitals with vaccines that he'd brought home from his clinic before the hurricane. Clinics with generator power took in emergency cases, while one veterinarian set up shop in her house.

Dr. Pugh said pets suffered from heat stress because the temperature stayed near 100 F for a couple of weeks after the storm, with little access to air-conditioning. Some senior pets without their medication didn't fare well, and wandering animals sustained injuries. Many pets in boarding facilities hadn't had vaccines for kennel cough ahead of time because owners evacuated on such short notice. And the flea population became overwhelming.

Dr. Pugh worked mostly by cell phone. He said he wasn't practicing as much as referring clients, calling in prescriptions, and examining a few pets.

Now, everyone wants to know when his clinic will reopen.

"You never know how much you're appreciated until you're not there," he said.

Dr. Pugh said his hospital probably has too much damage to repair. He's still finalizing plans and waiting on insurance.  

In the wake of the storm

Dr. Reinap, a 2005 graduate of Texas A&M University, was working at a clinic in Orange when the hurricane approached. He evacuated to College Station, but he returned after a few days.

"There were over one hundred dogs and cats that had been boarded at the boarding facility," Dr. Reinap said. "The roof had been ripped off of the boarding facility, and there was no electricity and no running water."

But he managed with what he had. He cleaned the kennels, walked the dogs, and fed all the animals with help from one of the employees.

Dr. Reinap said two of the senior dogs succumbed to heat stress in the absence of air-conditioning. The most difficult medical case involved a diabetic cat. He left the cat on a special diet but took it off insulin, figuring that a high glucose level was better than no glucose level.

"People were calling my cell phone to check on their animals," Dr. Reinap said.

He said the authorities were allowing hardly anyone to return right after the storm.

After a couple of days, though, the boarding facility had water pressure and generator power. People began to claim their animals, or they sent family or friends to pick up their pets. Other owners visited their pets because they needed to find someplace to stay that allowed animals. Clients came to the clinic for pet food and medicine.

Dr. Reinap began to see some patients toward the end of the week. He had enough power for some lights and equipment, though he took a flashlight into the pharmacy when he went to fetch medicines that didn't require refrigeration.

By the end of the week, the Houston SPCA picked up the remaining animals. Over the weekend, Dr. Reinap made arrangements to obtain supplies for some of the operational clinics.

He returned to College Station to pick up medical supplies from the pharmacy at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine. He loaded the supplies into his truck, and he drove back to southeast Texas—where he distributed supplies through the evening and the next morning.

He had also outfitted himself to work in an ambulatory capacity, so he went out on a few calls.

Eventually, Dr. Reinap had some time to spend with family and friends and to tend to his own affairs. Then he returned to southeast Texas yet again to join the veterinary community along the road to recovery.