UC-Davis to train for large animal emergencies

Firefighters, veterinarians collaborate in rescues
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Equine rescue
A horse became stuck on a pipe corral while trying to join a mare on the other side. Firefighters from Felton, Calif., used a hydraulic cutting tool to quietly cut the lower bars.

A two-horse trailer flipped on its side last year along a highway in Sacramento, leaving one horse stacked on top of another.

Dr. John Madigan, whose clients owned the horses, said highway patrol officers had no training involving large animals.

"They were afraid the horse would get loose, they had no protocol, and they didn't know what to do," Dr. Madigan said. "So the horse on the bottom, who was not injured, died."

Earlier this year, loose cattle closed a section of a four-lane freeway in Contra Costa County for four hours, Dr. Madigan said. Animal control authorities and cattle farmers were allowed limited access to the eight cows, and four were shot to death on the road.

Dr. Madigan, director of the International Animal Welfare Training Institute at the University of California-Davis, is among instructors at the School of Veterinary Medicine who are developing protocol and training for large animal emergency responses. The program is modeled after a prototype at a fire department in Santa Cruz County, and he hopes the training will be adopted statewide and eventually nationwide.

"That's the template that we'd like to have in each county in California, and we're providing the training and creating the infrastructure for that," Dr. Madigan said.

The program is also inspired by the British Emergency Services Protocol, and Dr. Madigan said he has spoken with officials in Britain about how to create classes involving 911 and integrated response.

Ron Rickabaugh is chief of the Felton Fire Protection District, the model department for Dr. Madigan's program. Three of his department members started a large animal rescue training program after an accident in 1996 in which a horse and rider fell down a hill in Henry Cowell State Park.

The rider was not injured, but the horse was euthanized after it became trapped between the hillside and a rock. A veterinarian later told fire department members the horse may have been able to stand and walk up the hill if the firefighters could have moved it about 10 feet.

"We thought, 'Couldn't we deploy the same rescue techniques we would have used for a person on an animal, obviously on a grander scale with heavier equipment to accommodate the weight," Rickabaugh said.

All 30 of Felton's firefighters are now trained in large animal rescue, and the program developed by department firefighters Deb and John Fox and Greg Malloy is approved by the state fire marshal's office as a technical rescue course. Deb Fox said the training and protocol was developed over the past decade, and she hopes the UC-Davis instruction will augment the Felton program with training specific to veterinarians.

Felton has added equipment, such as an animal lifter and thicker ropes, but John Fox said the training and protocol were developed so any firefighters can perform rescues using standard fire service equipment, techniques, and terminology.

Programs in Felton and at Clemson University in South Carolina are among those used to train emergency responders, veterinarians, animal control officials, and horse owners in large animal emergency rescue.

Students becoming instructors

University of California-Davis will train 55 students this year, and Dr. Madigan hopes his students will become instructors and teach others protocol for animal rescue when they leave the school. The training program is part of the International Animal Welfare Training Institute, which was formed in May.

Institute activities include monthly forums, discussions on animal welfare, and guest speakers, and the school has planned to offer other training in pet emergency preparedness.

One of the school's first projects included the creation of a new sling for recumbent cattle. Following a meeting in September, Dr. Madigan demonstrated how a new sling developed at the UC-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital is used to lift cattle into therapeutic flotation tanks.

Equine rescue
Firefighters from Felton, Calif., lift a horse using a UC-Davis Large Animal Lift and bipod. The horse had been stuck in mud before it was moved to a dry area, placed in the lifter, and picked up using an A-frame and bipod system.

Dr. Kimberly May, an AVMA staff member who co-authored the book "Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue," said first responders likely benefit most from large animal rescue training, but it is valuable to anyone who deals with large animals. Knowledge of rescue techniques and strategies adds to veterinarians' medical expertise and makes them invaluable emergency response teams members.

"Horse owners can also learn much from the training, because it can teach them strategies and safe methods for helping the animals," Dr. May said.

Animal rescue training programs are becoming more commonplace as fire department administrators recognize the value placed on animals, Dr. May said. News media reports help show people the need and opportunity for animal rescue training.

"People can be at very serious risk of injury or death, especially if they do what they usually do—just rush in," Dr. May said. "The animals are often already injured, but a poorly executed/planned rescue attempt can worsen the injuries or even kill the animal."

Dr. Madigan said UC-Davis is involved in not only training but also research on large animal rescue. He said students taking the classes learn how to use rescue equipment, use sedatives in emergencies, safely approach large animals, and become outreach instructors. As instructors, they can teach dispatchers, first responders, and equine organizations.

Dr. May said training helped save most of the 59 horses and ponies that were inside a double-decker trailer when it overturned after a traffic crash in October 2007 in Wadsworth, Ill. One of the responding firefighters had completed a technical large animal emergency rescue course in August, and he directed the rescue efforts.

Dr. Roberta Dwyer, a spokeswoman on emergency and disaster preparedness for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said animal rescue is an issue that affects police horses on patrol in Chicago, horse shows in Madison Square Garden, and trailers of horses and cattle in the middle of Nebraska.

"Ideally, all of the first responders—the firefighters as well as veterinarians, horse owners and livestock owners—should have some basic understandings of those types of horse rescue events—an overturned trailer or loose animals on the road—because those are highly dangerous situations," Dr. Dwyer said. "And an untrained person can sometimes become another victim if they're not trained on how to deal with a loose animal versus someone who has had some basic training."

Dr. Dwyer, who is also a professor at the University of Kentucky Department of Veterinary Science, said it is important for emergency responders to understand what scares large animals as well as what techniques to use in rescues. Fire truck lights and sirens and gear that smells of smoke can scare horses.

Dr. Dwyer has taken large animal rescue training programs. She said they added to her medical training and showed her the capabilities of firefighters.

Applying the training

Rickabaugh said his firefighters' training program can be completed in 16 hours, and the courses cover horse behavior, harnessing and pulling techniques, and mock rescues. The program had, by mid-October, been used to train firefighters from more than 100 departments from California to Missouri, as well as rescue workers from animal welfare organizations, John Fox said.

The Felton department is involved in about a dozen large animal rescues yearly, Rickabaugh said, and the program has been a success. His firefighters extinguish fires with little fanfare, but they get attention for saving animals.

"When we go out and rescue an animal, we're absolute heroes," Rickabaugh said, adding with a laugh, "It usually gets written up in the paper; some guy with a magazine calls and wants to do an interview."

Dr. Madigan said he wants to eventually have at least one fire department in every California county that can be called for emergency large animal rescue. The UC-Davis program is progressing, starting with training for nearby agencies.

"This is a small part of something bigger that we'd like to have," Dr. Madigan said. "A better coordinated, integrated response to emergencies, as well as when emergencies move up into the disaster category."