By Allison Clark
From housing displaced animals to volunteering medical aid, the colleges of veterinary medicine in states struck by Hurricane Katrina, including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, have provided relief in many ways.
At Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, nearly 1,200 companion animals—including about 640 dogs and 390 cats—are housed at the LSU AgCenter's John M. Parker Coliseum in Baton Rouge. Pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and birds are also at the shelter.
Ginger Guttner, spokesperson for the veterinary school, said that two days after the hurricane hit Louisiana, the coliseum was prepared to house evacuated animals, and within 48 hours of opening, more than 500 animals had arrived.
"This shelter is different from your typical animal shelter in that these animals are owned; we know who owns them," she said. Most of the animals at the coliseum were brought in by the owners themselves or came from clinics that were evacuated. She said people who were initially evacuated brought their animals to the clinics, and then when the situation worsened, the clinics had to evacuate.
"We had one clinic bring us over 170 animals," Guttner said.
Faculty, staff, and veterinary students from the school are caring for the animals. Other organizations that have teamed with LSU to provide relief are the Louisiana Animal Control Association, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Louisiana VMA.
Reuniting pets with owners
At the coliseum, each animal goes through a check-in and checkout process. When the animal arrives, the volunteers take a photograph and record any available history, all of which are then posted on the LSU Web site. Next, the volunteers perform an initial examination of the animal, and if additional care is required, there is an on-site triage center staffed by veterinarians, along with veterinary technicians and students.
"We've had over 100 people claim their animals and take them because they've gotten settled, and we've had at least five reunions where people didn't know we had their animal," Guttner said. "There might be 20 out of 1,000 animals that we have addresses for, like their neighbor brought in their animal, so we don't know a name but we have an address."
Within the first few weeks after the hurricane, LSU sent a request for assistance to veterinary colleges and associations. Dr. Herris Maxwell, associate clinical professor at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, along with several other faculty members, volunteered to make the trip.
Dr. Maxwell will travel to the coliseum with two other faculty members on what is expected to be a three- to five-day stay. At least 10 Auburn faculty members overall have committed to travel to the coliseum over the next couple of months. Their duties will include providing care for dogs and cats at the coliseum and at the Lamar-Dixon Equine Exposition Center in Gonzales, La., where animals are sheltered. They will also help with horses housed on the LSU campus.
Dr. Maxwell said he and the other volunteers expect their assistance will be needed on an ongoing basis. "They have a lot of people who are showing up right now in the key part of the crisis," he said, "but I think there's going to be a need for people down there for months." Auburn has granted them time off to aid in the relief efforts.
Meanwhile, at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, a team of four faculty members plan to travel to Louisiana and Mississippi during weekends for the next six to eight weeks to help provide medical care where needed.
Also, the school's class of 2007 is hosting an ongoing donation drive to gather monetary funds, along with supplies, canned goods, and pet food. Donations are gathered in various drop boxes around campus and then donated to the American Red Cross' Tuskegee-Macon County Chapter.
College delivers supplies to hospitals
Though a number of Gulf Coast-area hospitals were destroyed, veterinarians at several hospitals with electricity have made an effort to provide care to animals. In turn, the faculty and students from Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine have made several deliveries of pharmaceuticals, supplies, and food to veterinarians in the region who are without delivery service from the U.S. Postal Service and all other regular couriers. The college plans to offer the courier service until regular delivery services are operating.
Also, the college's faculty, staff, and students, along with the Mississippi VMA staff, are calling veterinarians located in the affected areas to find out if—and to what extent—they need immediate and long-term assistance.
Next, the faculty, staff, and students at the college are operating the Mississippi Animal Relief Hotline, which was established by the Mississippi Board of Animal Health after the hurricane. "We're manning that hotline to help answer and direct calls related to the disaster," said Dr. Stanley Robertson, associate professor and coordinator of veterinary informatics and extension veterinary medicine at the college.
Along with Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has offered to help in the relief efforts. Dean Joseph DiPietro sent a letter to faculty, staff, alumni, and students challenging them to raise $2,500 by Oct. 31. The money would be donated to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges Disaster Fund. The fund was recently established by the AAVMC, where Dean DiPietro serves as president, to help provide relief to the people and animals affected by the hurricane. For more information, log on to www.aavmc.org/aavmcdisasterfund.htm.
Veterinary students will also host a dog and car wash to help raise funds, said Sarah Carey, spokesperson for the University of Florida.
If needed, the college may send faculty to help relieve veterinarians who are volunteering in the affected areas.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint," Carey said. "As different teams from around the country rotate through there, we may in turn be sending folks on a rotation to help them."
A number of other colleges of veterinary medicine are helping to provide relief. Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, for example, has sheltered animals displaced by the hurricane. Faculty members have also attended to the medical needs of animals that were moved from the affected areas to a local animal shelter. At Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the first of two teams of veterinary specialists, technicians, and fourth-year students were deployed on Sept. 12 to assist at the LSU coliseum. A second team was scheduled to deploy a week later, bringing a total of 10 Cornell volunteers to the area. The college also sent two shipments of emergency veterinary supplies. Finally, the college committed $10,000 to the AAVMC relief fund for use at LSU and Mississippi State.