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Florida wades through Charley's wake


ORLANDO- At least 60 veterinary practices in three counties have been severely damaged or are out of service as Category 4 Hurricane Charley pounded the Florida coast.

ORLANDO— At least 60 veterinary practices in three counties have been severely damaged or are out of service as Category 4 Hurricane Charley pounded the Florida coast.

Charlotte County was considered ground zero of Charley's wrath, but it is far from being the only area in desperate need. Port Charlotte, North Port, Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda were among the areas hardest hit as the storm made its way across the peninsula.

More than 250,000 structures, including many veterinary hospitals, were in the path of this mid-August hurricane, causing billions of dollars in damage in the state, which subsequently was declared a disaster area by President George W. Bush.

The Humane Society of the United States routinely administers aid to disaster-strickened areas. Here, an HSUS volunteer rescues a flood victim.

"Of the 10 veterinary practices in Charlotte County, only one is operational," says Don Schaefer, executive director, FVMA.

"Two clinics in Arcadia suffered severe damage; none of the three practices in Haines are operational, and in Lake Wales, three of the nine practices are up and running," Schaefer says.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that the DeSoto County Animal Control facility was destroyed completely. At presstime, 12 dogs and four cats were recovered, but food and water were scarce in the wake of the destruction, officials say. There was no active water supply, and the shelter in DeSoto was down to two bags of pet food.

HSUS on the scene

The National Humane Society of Tampa arranged for a Disaster Animal Relief Team (DART) to assist DeSoto County, and it created a command center near the Animal Control Center to provide shelter, care and veterinary support. The command center includes a 20-foot-long mobile veterinary hospital trailer to provide needed care to injured and sick animals.

Still, HSUS reports many horses and livestock in this county are in need of immediate care.

Dr. Raul Figarola of Pasco County Animal Control will be manning the veterinary hospital for a couple of days, says Jodi Witte, CEO of AnimalHelp and VMAT member.

Reports from HSUS at presstime say the situation is under control.

"Local DART teams in Florida have been developed through HSUS training and support in the years since Hurricane Andrew," says Anne Culver, director for disaster services, HSUS. "This preparation paid off with many locally trained personnel being able to help their neighbors."

Role of FVMA

"The need for veterinary help and assistance is great in order to address animal care and needs," Schaefer says.

FVMA is asking veterinarians and technicians to assist in caring for injured and sick animals.

Mobile veterinary facilities will be caring for animals in various parts of the state for at least two weeks after initial rescue groups arrive on the scene, Schaefer says.

Once community practices regain power and are reopened, they will be asked to help lost animals that were hurt during the storm. FVMA is asking for donations to aid local practices that unexpectedly will not be compensated by insurance policies, and anticipated payments from federal or state aid programs might take weeks before being approved.

"The few clinics in the areas that are operational soon will get burnt out from all of the cases being referred to them," Schaefer says. "We will also be looking to get relief for them."

Other concerns

The communication is limited in the area because phone lines and cell phone reception has been compromised, reports Laura Bevan, director, Southeast Regional Office of HSUS' DART.

HSUS spearheaded rescue efforts for small animals, and the Department of Agriculture is taking care of horses and cattle.

At presstime, officials could not estimate the number of animals injured or displaced.


Okaloosa County DART discovered that the Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County had its roof blown off. No major small animal injuries were reported.

Bevan says there is a good chance more animal injuries and/or displacements will arise when roads clear and the scene is more organized.

Suncoast Humane Society in Englewood received only minor damage and will be used to house small animals and supplies. The Animal Rescue League of Charlotte County had its kennel roof torn off by the storm and sent dogs to Suncoast for shelter.

The Humane Society of North Pinellas, Pinellas SPCA and the Humane Society of Broward County removed animals from the shelter to accommodate lost pets.

Animals given up by owners will be sent out of the county in hope of finding adoptable homes elsewhere.


Because many animal hospitals are nonfunctional, a 25-member Veterinary Medical Assistance Team (VMAT) based out of North Carolina has been sent to Florida.

VMAT and DART have set up camp at Carmelita Park, a sports recreation complex. Injured animals, animals brought in by the public, rescue teams and animal control will be assessed and treated.

Animal Control and County ESF-17 are to relocate to the facility as well, Bevan says, as there is more room and less chaos.

HSUS plan

Supplies are to be moved through the Suncoast Humane Society to the Carmelita Animal Compound, and animals are slated to move from the compound to the Humane Society shelter.


Emergency Animal Rescue Services (EARS) set up a temporary animal shelter at the Polk County Agriculture Center. The organization's on-site regional directors say they expect upwards of 600 animals in need of shelter and care at this facility.

The organization is asking for volunteers to help care for the expected mass of animals and their needs.


Witte says she has been coordinating volunteer aid through her organization in Hilton Head, S.C.

Listings of lost and found animals and updates from animal organizations on the scene are being updated by Witte daily. Witte says she and members of AnimalHelp have helped more than 100 animals from the disaster site during the first few days following the hurricane.

"VMAT is working on site, but we are far from knowing numbers," Witte says. "HSUS will be releasing statistics and continuing rescue efforts for quite some time."

Peace River Refuge and Ranch

Animal refuges and research and rehabilitation centers have experienced problems from the hurricane, too.

Peace River Refuge and Ranch in Zolfo Springs, which houses primates, wolves and large cats, reports a loss of 75 to 80 percent of its trees, its freezer building and sustained damage to vehicles.

"The refuge reports it has many downed trees and fences on the property but no escaped animals or injuries," Witte says.

Lisa Stoner, vice president of the refuge, estimates $200,000 in damage was done to fencing and cages.

"We hope we can endure the entire two or three weeks that it will take to have power restored to the area," Stoner says.

Facility staff is working on clearing debris but will need to launch a fundraising effort to make the necessary repairs.

The Mote Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center located in Sarasota moved many of its animals to The Living Seas in Orlando and to Sea World. It was the first time the center needed to evacuate its residents.

Want to help?

Contact the FVMA office at (800) 992-3862 or American Veterinary Medical Foundation, (800) 248-2862, ext. 6689.

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