October 15, 2008


 Veterinarians working to save animals, assess impact of Hurricane Ike


Texas state authorities and veterinary professionals are working to provide emergency animal care in counties where Hurricane Ike wiped out utilities and homes.

Elbert Hutchins, executive director of the Texas VMA, said the state association is working with veterinarians in areas with the most devastation to start emergency operations. Such operations are needed in 10 or 12 counties that are largely without electricity.

"Now, we're just kind of waiting to get a full assessment what the problems are, and what kind of long-term coordinated relief effort we need to mount," Hutchins said.

The storm's effect on wildlife, livestock, and companion animals wasn't clear at press time, and rescue operations of humans need to finish before authorities evaluate the impact on animals, Hutchins said.

More than a million people evacuated, but emergency work is still needed to help people who stayed despite the mandatory evacuation order. It was unclear how many animals were evacuated with their owners, Hutchins said.

Elizabeth Serca, executive director of the Texas State Animal Resource Team, said in a message that members of the Texas Animal Health Commission have been collecting information on small animal and large animal shelter locations in the days since Ike passed through the state. Shelters in Austin were consolidating operations the day after the hurricane's landfall while shelters in other areas continued receiving people and pets.

Preliminary information from the commission, which is Texas' livestock and poultry regulatory agency, indicates shelters provided space for more than 550 livestock and about 1,200 small animals. Those figures do not include pets held in temporary housing or given refuge by individuals.

A shortage of fuel, particularly diesel, is problematic even for state agencies, Serca said. She spent about a quarter of her time the day after the hurricane hit dealing with and removing volunteers without credentials, who she said pose a safety and accountability hazard.

Veterinarians may be eligible for certification to provide help as volunteers, Hutchins said.

"I'm sure that any veterinarian could get certified pretty quickly as a volunteer to help, but we do want to go through an orderly process to certify them," Hutchins said. "We don't want just everybody and anybody coming into the area to give help."

The federal government deployed National Veterinary Response Team members for recovery efforts following a request from the Texas Animal Health Commission, according to information from the commission. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the commission assessed large animal issues from above and on the ground, and the commission reported "large numbers" of cattle and horses were killed or roamed freely when fences fell during the storm.

In the days following the hurricane, agriculture and livestock industry groups have been collecting feed, hay, and water troughs through Operation No Fences: Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief, according to information from the commission.

Mississippi's state veterinarian, Dr. Jim Watson, said Ike did not have a severe impact on his state, but a small number of people and pets were evacuated from the coast. One pet-friendly shelter in Harrison County was largely used by coastal Mississippi residents, while other pet-friendly shelters mostly were used by people from Louisiana.

A large number of rodent deaths that likely occurred in Louisiana forced cleanup in Mississippi, Dr. Watson said. Thousands of nutria bodies washed ashore along a five-mile stretch of beach near the border between the states.

Information from the Louisiana State Animal Response Team says limited response was needed from the team following Hurricane Ike, and parishes remained in control of animal-related issues. Flooding in coastal parishes was more severe than after Hurricane Rita, but there was no need for outside volunteers immediately following the storm.

Hutchins said Texas had a much more efficient, rapid response than for previous storms. First responders, state coordinators, and county emergency response teams met, identified needs, and allocated resources daily.

"There was a much better prestorm evacuation process," Hutchins said. "The highways were crowded, but they didn't come to gridlock like they did before."

Most veterinary clinics are still standing since Hurricane Ike passed through, Hutchins said.

"But I think the big issue here is lack of power, and that of course means no water, and the gasoline stations can't pump gasoline," Hutchins said.

The Texas VMA needs money to provide electrical generators, fuel for the generators, and veterinary supplies, Hutchins said. People who want to donate money or supplies for relief efforts can contact April Klinger with the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation at (512) 452-4224 or at aklinger@tvma.org.

The Texas VMA is also collecting the names and contact information of potential volunteers. Veterinarians can add their names to the list by calling (512) 452-4224 or sending messages to ehutchins@tvma.org. Potential volunteers are asked to say whether they have supplies or other resources to bring with them.