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Army of 1,200 DVMs, technicians converge on Gulf Coast in rescue campaign
Jackson, La. — Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), a branch of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), deployed more than 1,200 veterinarians and technicians to aid distressed animals in Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
JACKSON, LA. — Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), a branch of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), deployed more than 1,200 veterinarians and technicians to aid distressed animals in Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Veterinary teams are working with the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Gonzales, La., on ground and boat rescues and veterinary hospital assessments. Relief workers plan to stay in the area as long as it takes for local veterinary practices to become fully operational, says Melissa Seide-Rubin, HSUS vice president of field and disaster services.
By boat or by foot: Animal rescue tops the agenda for more than 1,200 veterinarians and technicians.
"Currently, there are 76 veterinarians in Mississippi from HSUS and 175 in Louisiana," Seide-Rubin says. "But the veterinarians shift around where needed. Some have now gone to Texas."
Dr. Eric Davis, director of RAVS, has been working along the coast for more than a month, organizing veterinary teams in the disaster area and working triage for animals brought to staging facilities.
"I was working primarily at Lamar-Dixon (Gonzales, La.) but now I'm working at the Dixon Correctional facility, Davis says. Now we're dealing mainly with animals whose owners can't take them because they have no home."
About 150 animals were transferred from Lamar-Dixon Coliseum to the prison to open space for additional rescued animals from Rita. Veterinarians and technicians will remain at the correctional facility to care for animals until claimed by owners or alternate homes are found, officials say.
"It is very emotional work, stressful and yet very rewarding," Davis says. "I have been so busy I don't remember what day it is most of the time, and I have no idea when I'll be going back to my own home."
Inmates recruited to help care for the animals are managed by Davis, who works side-by-side with volunteers cleaning cages and exercising dogs.
"It has been useful having the help," Davis says. "Even with the help, we are working from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. I'd hate to see what it would be like without them."
Preparation for Rita was much more organized than it was for Katrina, Davis says. All facilities housing animals were secured and supplies were safely stored. All of the animals brought to a staging area had to be catalogued and examined by a veterinarian, to better track animals that might be relocated.
"About 80 percent of the animals suffered from conjunctivitis, damage to pads of feet; were dirty and hungry," Davis says. "A much smaller percent were severely dehydrated and weak from lack of food."
Days after Katrina and then Rita, Davis says Lamar-Dixon Coliseum was bringing in upwards of 300 animals a day.
"There are so many veterinarians helping here," Davis says. "The veterinary community has been extremely generous in donating supplies and time. The doctors are getting down and dirty along with all of the other volunteers and giving animals baths, cleaning cages and helping wherever they are needed."
About 900 animals were in the care of veterinarians at the Forrest County Multipurpose Center in Hattiesburg, Miss., reports Tammy Rouse, RAVS Appalachian Coordinator.
"Every animal that came in was decontaminated by Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams, then examined and microchipped by veterinarians," Rouse says. "Mostly skin problems and broken limbs were presented. We had a wonderful group of veterinarians and volunteers that helped care for animals."
Rouse was in Mississippi for two weeks saying about 100 animals per day came to the facility in the beginning, then tapered off and increased again after Rita hit.
"The veterinarians in Hattiesburg made sure animals were treated for ailments," Rouse recalls. "There were a couple of pyometras that RAVS doctors sent to local veterinarians to treat. Very few animals that came to the facility were altered, and many had diarrhea. Everyone kept focused on what needed to be done, but often keeping everything clean was a priority."
Among the mayhem, Rouse says she will take away many memorable moments where veterinarians went beyond the call of duty to assure animals were given the best care possible.
"One veterinarian from Meridian, Miss. Gave extra care to a German Shepherd was presented with a variety of ailments," Rouse recalls. "He was by the dogs side in every spare moment. If an owner does not claim the dog, a member of the National Guard says he will adopt it. It was pretty amazing watching two grown men doting over this dog despite everything that was going on."
Veterinarians at the Forrest County Multipurpose Facility saw more than 1,700 animals before it closed its doors. Animals that had not been claimed by owners were sent to reputable shelters, authorities say.
RAVS members were not deployed to Texas, but HSUS veterinarians and volunteers assisted with the Rita relief effort.
Veterinarians report fewer animal casualties with Rita than other Gulf states that suffered with Hurricane Katrina, says Belinda Mager, HSUS public relations, disaster preparedness and response.
The HSUS, ASPCA and United Animal Nations assisted the Texas Animal Control Association in evacuating more than 300 owned pets from a temporary shelter in Nacogdoches, Texas, to another shelter in Lufkin, Texas.
"A lot of animals with severe sunburn, heat stroke and hot spots were treated," says Lou Guyton, director of the HSUS Southwest Regional Office and leader of HSUS response to Rita. "Veterinarians examined all of the animals brought to the Lufkin shelter and managed their care. Veterinarians endured a lot of blood, sweat and tears caring for the animals from both disasters. It really shows the generosity and heart of the profession."