December 15, 2012


 Sandy takes its toll

​Responders anticipate long road ahead for recovery efforts

Posted November 12, 2012
Revised December 6, 2012  
Two waterfront aquariums in the path of Sandy were so severely flooded that they remain closed indefinitely. Staff at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium on Coney Island (pictured here) provided care to the fish, invertebrates, and mammals as generators provided temporary power to the 14-acre facility and life support systems were restored. Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., also relied on backup generators after the storm as staff sought assistance from zoos to help care for its animals. The WCS’s four zoos—Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens—did not experience serious damage.
(Courtesy of Julie Larsen Maher/WCS​)

A temporary shelter at the Jersey Shore in New Jersey houses pets while their owners stay at a nearby shelter. A number of shelters in the state co-locate humans and animals to reduce the number of people who refuse temporary housing because they do not want to leave their animals. All shelters in New York City co-locate as well. (Courtesy of New Jersey Department of Agriculture​)
From small animal practices to aquariums to dairy farms, Hurricane Sandy had a devastating impact on humans, animals, and the environment along the East Coast.
The hurricane—the largest Atlantic one on record—collided with other storm fronts to form a superstorm that brought severe weather to more than 24 U.S. states.
The associated high winds and torrential rain toppled trees and felled power lines, cutting off electrical power for millions of people, and caused more than 100 deaths.
Sandy made its U.S. landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., late Oct. 29. That state and New York were the most severely impacted.
About three-quarters of the veterinary clinics in New York City were located in evacuation zone A, meaning they were in low-lying areas, estimated Patricia Costello, administrator for the New York City Veterinary Emergency Response Team.
A dog named Shaggy is handed from a National Guard truck to National Guard personnel after the dog and his owner left a flooded building Oct. 31 in Hoboken, N.J., in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Some residents and pets were being plucked from their homes by large trucks as parts of the city were still covered in standing water. (Photo by Associated Press/Craig Ruttle​)
“Data is still coming in, but on the weekend of the storm many clinics were closed and had an effort to reopen, but only a few were closed for more than a few days. Facility damage was less the issue than the ability for staff to come in to make seeing appointments feasible,” she said.
Ninety percent of the Rockaway Peninsula, which includes Belle Harbor, had flooded, said Dr. John Charos, chief operating officer of Central Veterinary Associates.
He recalls driving through the peninsula once the water had receded and seeing a handful of dogs in the streets and a few others that had drowned.
“There are people who’ve lost homes. The lucky ones are in hotels. Others are in homes that have been basically trashed by salt water mixed with sewage. They have no heat,” he said.
A house in Union Beach, N.J., barely stands after Hurricane Sandy. Coastal areas, particularly in New Jersey and New York, were hard-hit by high winds and flooding from the storm surge. Livestock did not have to be evacuated, but New Jersey’s dairy farms had issues with power outages and water shortages. (Courtesy of HSUS​)
“Many of the doctors, if they didn’t lose their cars, they lost homes.
A lot of us still have no electricity. It feels good to come here and help other people. You don’t mind doing it, because it takes your mind off things.”
Debbie Vayda, practice administrator, Animal Infirmary of Hoboken

Central Veterinary Associates is a network of seven animal health centers in the New York City area. Only two offices had power as of Nov. 7. CVA’s Far Rockaway clinic took on more than 4 feet of water, and the Belle Harbor location took on 8 feet. The former reopened Nov. 7 with the help of a generator. On the first day, about 30 people stopped by for donated pet food and help for their animals, Dr. Charos said.
Another heavily hit area was Staten Island, where the Veterinary Emergency Center is located. Owner Dr. John F. Sangiorgio said Nov. 2, “We’re the only place (on the island) with everything running. There’s no damage to where we are. We’re very lucky.”
Dr. Sangiorgio and his staff were taking care of animals at two evacuation shelters: one at Michael J. Petrides School, which had 110 animals as of Nov. 2, and another at Susan E. Wagner High School, which had 50.
Most animals had signs of anxiety, and his staff gave tranquilizers to quite a few.
“I’ve not seen anything like this,” he said. “And we’ve been involved with other emergencies. Two doctors here worked at the World Trade Center during 9/11.”  

Cooperation in the aftermath

Drs. Charos and Sangiorgio volunteer with the NYC VERT, which is part of the NYC Office of Emergency Management Animal Planning Task Force.

The task force is a coalition of organizations that handle specific duties during disasters.

Among the members, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is responsible for providing shelters and shelter supplies during this evacuation. The ASPCA also is taking the lead with regard to large-scale, long-term shelter needs. Then there’s Animal Care & Control of New York City, which is responsible for field rescue, emergency sheltering, and reunification. The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals is tasked with providing supplemental sheltering and some transportation of pets. The Humane Society of the United States has been contributing resources and administrative support during this evacuation.

NYC VERT, for its part, was being used for mitigation and resolution of all animal medical matters. The team has established a network of more than 150 veterinary clinics and about 200 additional veterinarians.
Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team responder Rowdy Shaw assists in kenneling a 1-year-old dog that had been rescued from a second-floor apartment in Staten Island in New York City. The owners were staying at a local shelter and requested help. (Courtesy of HSUS​)
Costello, who acts as liaison and organizer for NYC VERT, said medical issues have mostly involved small lacerations, toxicoses associated with vomiting and diarrhea, stress and anxiety, skin irritation from exposure to contaminated water, and a couple of eye and ear incidents that, according to Costello, might have been caused by the storm or might have been pre-existing. “There’s not a lot of medical need in this emergency, but it would be big distraction for other first responders if we weren’t there, because we can tend to the animals,” Costello said.

One issue NYC VERT members have been addressing is preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Member veterinarians were making rounds to shelters less than a week after the storm and prophylactically vaccinating animals against rabies. They also checked on the animals and performed wellness examinations as well as bathed and decontaminated animals.

About 275 animals were in the shelter system at the height of need. That number dropped to about 200 by Nov. 7. However, that figure belies the actual need, Costello said.

“We know many more animals are out there. One network of hospitals, they have over 200 abandoned or long-term animals,” she said.

“Then there are those who stayed home, and so we’re sending mobile units into neighborhoods. It’s hard to get a count, but it’s in the thousands.” 

No power, lots of damage

Sandy’s impact on New Jersey was equally devastating.

Two of the four clinics owned by Dr. Michael Tuder in hard-hit Hudson County were closed as of Nov. 2—the Animal Infirmary of Hoboken, because of structural damage and flooding, and the Bayonne Animal Hospital, because of lack of power.

Practice administrator Debbie Vayda said of the Hoboken location, “We took it serious and we made sure everyone and the animals were out of there, but we will be closed there for a month or two at least. We had equipment damaged—the x-ray machine and laser, everything—but we didn’t prepare for that because we usually don’t flood there.”

Work continues at the other two clinics, both in Jersey City. Vayda said they’ve been busy. Veterinarians sutured a dog’s paw after it had stepped in a puddle and cut itself. Other dogs have gotten sick from licking their paws and ingesting contaminated water.
Salt water from the storm surge at the Coney Island Boardwalk compounded the difficult restoration work at the New York Aquarium by damaging equipment. (Courtesy of Julie Larsen Maher/WCS​)
“We’re also helping some of the older animals on chronic medications from other hospitals that are not open,” Vayda said.

Her own dog fell into a concrete basement after taking a wrong turn. But it could have been worse, she said.

“Many of the doctors, if they didn’t lose their cars, they lost homes. A lot of us still have no electricity,” Vayda said. “It feels good to come here and help other people. You don’t mind doing it, because it takes your mind off things.”

Lynne Richmond, public information officer for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, said many animals had been rescued and that more continued to be rescued. Plus, many were being taken to temporary shelters to be cared for until owners have the capacity to care for their pets again. Pet owners also had the option of bringing their animals with them to pet-friendly shelters across the state. Typically, these animals were housed in county animal response team trailers designed for this purpose and set up near the shelters.

“We’ve been getting various stories back of animals being found and then of some injured animals as well,” Richmond said.

“We’ve got so many caring individuals helping in the effort. They should be praised for the hard work they’re doing.”

On Nov. 2, the Humane Society of the United States, New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and New Jersey Department of Agriculture jointly set up a 24-hour hot line to reunite state residents with their pets.

Hundreds of calls have come through that center and been relayed to animal control officers, New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals staff and volunteers, and county animal response teams.

The state agriculture department sent an email to all New Jersey veterinarians Nov. 2 about the hot line, too.

County animal response teams in every New Jersey county were activated during the storm, Richmond said, but many of those responses had concluded by Nov. 7, except for efforts in counties along the shore, such as Ocean, Monmouth, and Hudson, because of a storm expected to hit that evening. 

Going forward

The potential long-term effects from the storm may be as harmful for area veterinarians as the initial destruction.

Dr. Charos said he heard from a practice in Belle Harbor that put out a plea asking if any other veterinary practices could hire its staff for the next few months because they’ll be out of a job.
“In many instances of one- or two-doctor practices, their livelihood is done,” he said.
In addition, a number of local veterinary clinics reported just a week after Sandy hit that they’re near capacity with their kennels.
These practitioners face a tough balancing act between taking in strays and maintaining enough room for existing clients and their pets, not to mention that many are still bailing water out of their basements, Costello said.
She said an important lesson practitioners can take away from this disaster is that a veterinary clinic has to be prepared to shelter and care for animals in an emergency with generators, potable water, and a disaster plan, among other things.
“You’re no use to anybody if you can’t help yourself,” Costello said. “It’s not very hard to take a few steps to be prepared. You’re better able to help clients, and everyone recovers quicker.”