August 01, 2008


 Midwest flooding affects animals, veterinary clinics

Veterinarians help staff temporary animal shelters in Iowa

Posted July 15, 2008
Kirkwood Community College
Jason Thornton, a fourth-year veterinary student at Iowa State University, bandages a dog's
wound at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with help from Val Dawson,
a caretaker from the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter. The college took in hundreds of
companion animals during the recent Midwest flooding from evacuees, disaster responders,
and the Cedar Rapids shelter.

The floodwaters that inundated many Midwest river towns between late May and mid-June left veterinarians assessing losses while continuing to aid animals.

By late June, many people had returned home with their animals. Other residents were cleaning out houses while their pets remained in temporary shelters.

The damage seemed to be the worst in Iowa for veterinarians and other residents, though veterinarians in Indiana also sustained damage to clinics or homes. 

Iowa flooding

In Iowa, thousands of residents evacuated when the rivers rose. The Iowa Veterinary Rapid Response Team mobilized early to help staff temporary animal shelters.

In Cedar Rapids, a temporary shelter at Kirkwood Community College accepted hundreds of pets—mostly dogs and cats—from both evacuees and disaster responders. Shelter volunteers included veterinary technicians and veterinary technician students, many from the community college, along with veterinarians and veterinary students, many from nearby Iowa State University. The Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter operated out of Kirkwood after floodwaters reached its building.

Iowa City Animal Care accepted dogs and cats at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, also site of a Red Cross shelter, as water surrounded its adoption center. Another temporary shelter opened in Donnellson, while an existing shelter in Washington accepted additional animals.

Dr. Tom Johnson, executive director of the Iowa VMA, said the Illinois and Minnesota VMAs and other organizations in surrounding states called to offer assistance. The Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine held an emergency meeting to approve granting one hour of continuing-education credit for every two hours of volunteer work at a shelter.

Companies donated food, drugs, and other supplies to shelters while humane organizations rescued animals that evacuees left behind. Dr. Johnson believes most people were able to evacuate with their pets. People also evacuated numerous horses.

"I think everybody's stepped up," Dr. Johnson said. "Given the magnitude of the disaster, I think animals fared as well as you could expect."

Mark Shearer of the Iowa Department of Agriculture, coordinator of the Iowa Veterinary Rapid Response Team, said people evacuated almost 40,000 head of livestock—mostly hogs. About 4,000 hogs died near Oakville, however.

"In the big scheme of things, relatively few livestock were impacted," Shearer said. "The hogs have been our main concern because it became impossible to get all of the hogs out of one particular area. There were only so many trucks, so many people, and so many hours before the levee broke."

Shearer emphasized how seamlessly governmental and nongovernmental organizations have worked together to handle animal issues.

By late June, the floodwaters had subsided in Iowa, but a full recovery will take some time. Some veterinarians did sustain property damage. Dr. Johnson learned that flooding reached a clinic in Des Moines and that a clinic in Mason City and another in Cedar Falls sustained damage. The Iowa VMA sent out application forms for grants from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation to help restore veterinary infrastructure.

As of early July, the temporary animal shelter at Kirkwood Community College remained open. The University of Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps deployed two teams of veterinarians and veterinary students to assist with staffing.

Amy Mrozinski, RVT
Amy Mrozinski, a registered veterinary
technician at Frey Pet Hospital in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, steadies a dog for examination
at the temporary animal shelter at Kirkwood
Community College.

Other states

In Indiana, another state with severe flooding, several veterinarians reported damage to their clinics or homes. Lisa Perius, executive director of the Indiana VMA, said the VMA forwarded information about the AVMF grants and worked with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health to arrange a supply of flea medication for temporary shelters.

Denise Derrer, public information director for the board of animal health, said the state agency coordinated with local agencies and private practitioners on animal issues. Few livestock live in the floodplain, though one dairy farm did have to evacuate. Veterinarians with Indiana's Animal Surveillance Emergency Response Team helped coordinate temporary shelters for companion animals.

Derrer said the board of animal health received only a handful of calls asking for additional help. Animal issues during previous disasters in Indiana and other states had prompted the agency to promote planning and training for animal response.

"You need to help the animals if you're going to help their owners," Derrer said.

The Wisconsin Animal Response Corps and Illinois Veterinary Emergency Response Team stood ready to assist animals during the flooding but didn't receive any requests for help from local agencies.

Kim Brown Pokorny, executive director of the Wisconsin VMA, said the VMA had not received direct reports of veterinarians losing homes or clinics. Dr. Paul McGraw, assistant state veterinarian, said he did not know of any temporary shelters for companion animals but felt most pet owners received adequate notification to evacuate. He said the state had isolated issues with livestock.

The Illinois State VMA did not immediately receive any calls from veterinarians who needed assistance. Jim Kunkle of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, coordinator of the Illinois Veterinary Emergency Response Team, said he knew of a few temporary animal shelters.

In Missouri, at press time, flooding along the Mississippi River was not as extensive as residents had feared.