Veterinarians attending conferences in New Orleans are reaching out to help with the area's ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
In late September, the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Foundation coordinated volunteer workdays at the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter in conjunction with the 13th International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium.
The facility, east of New Orleans, was sorely in need of support. Staff members had completed only minimal repairs since the hurricane, restoring permanent electricity and hot water late this summer. The shelter has been overflowing with animals, but the adoption program has been nonexistent without the capacity to test for diseases and without a spay/neuter program.
"When we put out the call for help, everyone just stepped up to the plate," said Rene Scalf, veterinary technician and VECCF secretary.
The VECCF recruited veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students from across the country to work with the shelter staff to transform the facility during a two-day project in an area where the storm hit hard.
"I was devastated by the state of affairs as I passed through the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish," said Dr. Cindy Otto, a project volunteer and member of AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team-2. "Arriving at the animal shelter, it was clear that it, too, had suffered. But unlike the overwhelming sense of gloom elsewhere, here was hope and promise."
The volunteers started by clearing animals and everything else out of the shelter. Then they scoured the floors and walls with a pressure washer.
"We cleaned every cage, washed every dog bowl, organized collars and leashes, and started disinfecting everything," said Dr. Dougie Macintire, a volunteer and member of the VECCF board.
The volunteers scraped, spackled, and sanded. They painted the walls in the Mardi Gras colors of purple and green, at the suggestion of the animal caretaker.
"We never stopped except to eat our lunch and drink lots of water," said Dr. Marla Lichtenberger, another of the volunteers. "We had so much fun, and everyone worked as a team. We also took a little time to hug the animals."
The volunteers turned two animal holding rooms into surgery and examination/treatment rooms. Where the rafters were bare, the volunteers installed ceiling panels and surgery lights. They also installed doors, cabinets, sinks, wet tables, and a surgery table.
The veterinary industry donated much of the equipment and supplies to outfit the St. Bernard shelter. The facility is also the first focus of a new outreach program for shelters in the New Orleans area through the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Veterinary students from LSU will perform spay/neuter procedures at the facility.