Baton Rouge, La. — Faced with double the number of residents and more migrating by the hour, Louisiana State University (LSU) braces for an influx of pets from evacuees and veterinary hospitals around devastated New Orleans.
BATON ROUGE, LA. — Faced with double the number of residents and more migrating by the hour, Louisiana State University (LSU) braces for an influx of pets from evacuees and veterinary hospitals around devastated New Orleans.
Calling all displaced pets: Local radio and television stations broadcast Louisiana State University's temporary pet housing center at the AgCenter's Parker Coliseum. At presstime, more than 900 animals resided in the arena.
At presstime, the university's veterinary school houses an estimated 900 pets in the LSU AgCenter's Parker Coliseum, an indoor arena for horse shows. Night and day, students and faculty staff the dirt-floor facility and on-site triage center. In addition to coordinating these efforts, Dr. Mark Mitchell accommodates two public health veterinarians and their families in his home.
The LSU associate professor in the veterinary school insists they can stay as long as necessary. The university shares his view, realizing it might take weeks or months for some owners to reclaim their pets, he says.
"One of the hospitals in New Orleans brought 100 cats and 40 dogs," Mitchell says. "We've taken in 200 injured squirrels. People who've lost everything take the time to bring in these animals. It shows there's hope out there."
But as donated drug supplies, cages and food flood in, so does the realization that millions of displaced people are in dire straits. Veterinary students, some now housing their entire families, were scheduled to resume classes on Sept. 2. Mitchell expects the most downtrodden with homes in New Orleans might not show.
Inside the triage center: Dr. Claudio Natalini, assistant professor of veterinary anesthesiology (right), and Trinka Adamson, class of 2007, examine a cat dropped off at the Louisiana State University's AgCenter's Parker Coliseum.
"It's amazing when catastrophe happens to you, in your area," he says. "I've had people break down in front of me, and you can't help but break down with them. It's surreal down here."
In an effort to ease the hardship, Mitchell says more than 200 e-mails from colleagues, former classmates and students have flooded his inbox. They're willing to "drop everything," he says.
"We have colleagues who have practices that aren't going to be functional for months, maybe never again," Mitchell says. "It's really a shame what's happened down here."
Apart from the veterinary school's confines, LSU's infrastructure is being tested. The campus basketball facilities now double as a medical triage and the track acts as a helicopter-landing pad. The Federal Emergency Management Agency occupies many university buildings.
Baton Rouge feels the bulge, too. Now the state's largest city with more than 1 million people, real-estate prices have tripled since the catastrophe. Long lines at groceries and banks are compounded by a lack of fuel. Area schools recessed for a week so redirected school busses could transport the homeless.
Mitchell says he thinks many of the evacuees, too poor to relocate themselves, will stay, throwing the city's job market and housing needs off kilter.
"This is not going to be a week or two event," he says. "We're planning long term. We want everyone to realize this is not going to be simple. It's going to be so much more involved than just checks and prayers."