Companies contribute to animal rescue and relief

AVMA sponsors help veterinary community tend to hurricane victims
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By Katie Burns

Makers of animal food and pharmaceuticals supplied products, personnel, money, and more to the rescue and relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Companies sent trucks full of feed, vaccine, medication, and other necessities to animal shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi. They also sent out veterinarians and veterinary technicians to save animals from the floodwaters.

Among the companies were Bayer Animal Health, Hill's Pet Nutrition, and Merial—the platinum–level sponsors of the AVMA Annual Convention. Fort Dodge Animal Health and Pfizer Animal Health, gold-level sponsors, also participated in rescue and relief efforts. All five companies demonstrated their commitment and concern for the veterinary profession and the animals they serve during the disaster and in its aftermath.

Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, director of professional affairs at Hill's Pet Nutrition, and a former AVMA president, said her company donated more than 400,000 pounds of pet food within about two weeks of the disaster—along with bowls and leashes. At press time, the company continued to ship more products.

"I believe that the close connection and common purpose of veterinarians and companies like Hill's in the veterinary industry could not be any better demonstrated than by the overwhelming outpouring of care, compassion, and assistance to families and their beloved animal companions who have been affected in this tragedy," Dr. Leininger said.

Dr. Leininger said her company worked closely with Dr. Cindy Otto, a member of one of the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams, who sent out a call for food and supplies for a veterinary field hospital in Biloxi, Miss. Dr. Otto was actually in the field with VMAT-2 when she would have been accepting the Hill's-Dr. Jack Mara Award for Scientific Achievement through the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.

An associate training specialist for Bayer Animal Health also went into the field. Veterinary technician Kim Mathews spent a week with a water rescue team through Code 3 Associates, a private company that provides animal relief during disasters.

"The mass devastation of people's lives is what affected me the most," she said. "They had to leave their pets behind—and that, in itself, would be traumatic."

The rescue teams started at about 6 a.m., and they had to be off the water by a 4:30 p.m. curfew. They went from house to house by boat, coaxing out fearful dogs and cats that hadn't had food or fresh water for two weeks. Mathews said veterinarians were able to treat most of the animals.

Bob Walker, Bayer's director of communications, said planners need to realize that disasters imperil pets as well as people.

"We're currently trying to determine how to put systems in place so that we can be quicker to respond," he said.

Walker said his company worked mostly through Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine. Bayer donated a broad range of products, and the school distributed the products to animal shelters.

Dr. Zack Mills, vice president of veterinary medical affairs at Merial, said his company and its customers donated coupons and cash to animal rescue and relief.

Some of the proceeds went through the Foundation to supply shelters with Merial products for controlling fleas, ticks and heartworm. The rest of the proceeds went to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, which stresses disaster preparedness as well as response.

"Our goal is to get as much help to the animals as we can, as fast as we can, but we also want to raise awareness of the AVMF," Mills said.

Kelly Goss, communications manager for Fort Dodge Animal Health, said her company sent down some of its field veterinarians after the disaster. Fort Dodge also donated products ranging from vaccine and medication to shampoo and disinfectant.

"We've had a significant number of requests, and I believe we've been able to help everybody who's asked us for assistance," she said.

Goss said shipping the products to some areas was a challenge, but Fort Dodge sent supplies to alternate clinics for pick-up when necessary. She said a territory manager delivered some of the supplies personally to no-shipping areas.

Pfizer Animal Health also had veterinarians helping with animal rescue and relief. Dr. Mike McFarland, director of Pfizer's sedation and pain management team, said that the company created order forms for free products following Hurricane Katrina, too.

Pfizer shipped out more than 40,000 doses of vaccine as soon as refrigeration trucks became available, he said. The company sent antimicrobials for pets and livestock, sedatives for horses, and pain medication for various animals.

In addition, the company subsidized temporary or provisional licenses for veterinarians who left Louisiana. Starting with Texas, Pfizer worked with states to waive fees entirely and to expedite or waive testing.

Countless other companies have reached out to support the veterinary community after the disaster. They have contributed to animal rescue and relief, and now they are aiding relocation and rebuilding efforts.