California pilot program aims to improve emergency animal rescue, care

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A five-year, four-county pilot program by the University of California-Davis could help develop a statewide network of emergency animal rescue and care teams.

Tracey Stevens-Martin, deputy director of the International Animal Welfare Training Institute in the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said success with the program could also have benefits across the U.S.

"Our whole goal is to identify our resources, identify our trained individuals, and to be able to provide a baseline not only for the state, but also to help assist in creating a national framework on how states can coordinate their resources utilizing veterinary medicine, which encompasses not only the veterinary schools and students, but most importantly the veterinarians and their facilities within their communities," Stevens-Martin said.

UC-Davis officials announced earlier this year that the California Emergency Management Agency was giving the International Animal Welfare Training Institute $250,000 to help the state coordinate animal rescue and care at county and regional levels. The pilot program will help Butte, San Diego, Santa Clara, and Tulare counties develop animal response teams that comply with guidelines of the California Animal Response Emergency System, or CARES.

Dr. John E. Madigan, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and the director of the International Animal Welfare Training Institute, expects the pilot program to benefit emergency response personnel and animal owners statewide. He said the training to be provided through the program could help firefighters avoid harm from horses that become loose or injured in traffic crashes as well as help emergency response teams evacuate animals from areas that have become dangerous because of fire or floodwaters.

"Pet owners consider their animals to be part of their family," Dr. Madigan said. "Many of our equine owners have a very strong bond, and they're not going to evacuate without getting that horse in the trailer and moving it down the road, and they hope to have a place to take it when they get there."

Dr. Madigan said the state could see additional benefits from the partnership with UC-Davis because the university can accept tax-deductable donations toward improving disaster response and animal welfare.

"We're hoping that we'll actually build up a donation base, which will help supplement some of these things so we can provide the training, the equipment, and the expertise," Dr. Madigan said.

"We look forward to the day when, if a county has a problem, they have all their resources organized, they know where to take the animals, they have a shelter for the animals right next to the shelter for the people, and, if they need help, they can call for mutual aid into another county and at the same time they can put out a request for donations."

Other veterinary colleges are also collaborating with state government and nonprofit organizations for disaster response.

For example, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is a member of Florida's emergency agriculture response team and works with the state VMA and agriculture department during animal- and agriculture-related disasters, university information states. And the Equine Health Studies Program at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine is among partners for the Louisiana State Animal Response Team.

The AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams are also available as first responders during emergencies on request from the states. The VMATs provide emergency preparedness programs for state and local agencies and organizations.