Rainy day funds help emergency programs in troubled times

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Hurricanes Gustav's and Ike's impact on the Gulf Coast could have been far more severe without the aid of emergency responders who helped victims, both animal and human.

The Texas State Animal Resource Team and Louisiana State Animal Response Team found emergency shelter for displaced animals and furnished crates and food for local animal shelters and owners, among other things. The programs accomplished these tasks by coordinating organizations with interest in animal issues in emergency management and their resources.

TXSART and LSART benefited from donations after the devastation from the hurricanes, but program officials also note that money received before this kind of disaster is just as important.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation awards thousands of dollars each year in grants to state emergency agencies to help them prepare for such events.

For example, within the past three years, the AVMF has given $60,000 in state disaster preparedness grants to TXSART, which is part of the Texas VMA. Each year AVMF funds provide 20 percent to 30 percent of the program's annual budget.

TXSART Executive Director Elizabeth Serca said much of the AVMF money goes toward speaker travel for the program's annual Animals in Disasters Summit and printing preparedness materials.

In 2007, AVMF money paid for the program's pamphlet "Because lives depend on it," which later was adopted by the state's Animal Health Commission and governor's office as their official pet preparedness guide.

"It's a big deal, last year especially, because we couldn't bring in as much money because of the economy going into a downturn," Serca said.

This year, AVMF funds allowed TXSART to do its job after Hurricane Ike hit Sept. 13.

Serca, who served as the Animal Health Commission area commander, had up to 60 people working under her direction during the aftermath.

"Without having money beforehand, we can't pay for people like me to be the connective tissue between agencies," Serca said.

The AVMF also awarded $40,000 within the past two years to LSART, which is part of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Foundation, to assist with its emergency management efforts.

Bland O'Connor, executive director of the Louisiana VMA, said the AVMF contributions amount to 10 percent or 15 percent of LSART's annual budget. Most of that money went to veterinary exercises and training as well as meeting expenses.

"The AVMF is an important component of our funding, and we are very appreciative of their support. We also receive contributions related to current events such as Hurricane Gustav and from continuing supporters of the Dr. Walter J. Ernst Jr. Veterinary Memorial Foundation, as well as residual funds from prior disasters," O'Connor said.

Michael Cathey, executive director of the AVMF, said one important aspect of the Foundation's mission is to get people prepared in the event of a disaster.

"We think it's always our task to be prepared, more than completely reactive," Cathey said.

To help programs be ready for emergencies, the Foundation relies on donations to fund its state disaster preparedness grants.

"Everybody who supports the Foundation is essentially helping everyone across the nation who needs help in the event of a disaster," Cathey said.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation's mission is
"To Embrace and Advance the Well Being and Medical Care of Animals."
Contributions help the Foundation fund state and national disaster preparedness and response efforts, animal health studies, and veterinary student scholarships. To make a donation, visit www.avmf.org; call (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6689;
or send checks to
AVMF, Dept. 20-1122,
PO Box 5940,
Carol Stream, IL 60197