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The rescue: Curfews, red tape stall initial efforts; four VMAT teams deployed in major push to aid injured, displaced pets
New Orleans — Despite deployment of all four Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATS), strict curfews and restrictions delayed initial rescue efforts for thousands of animals stranded in abandoned dwellings and flood zones.
NEW ORLEANS — Despite deployment of all four Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATS), strict curfews and restrictions delayed initial rescue efforts for thousands of animals stranded in abandoned dwellings and flood zones.
The long wait: Delays and curfews reportedly stalled rescue efforts in the early days following the disaster.
VMAT members were stalled from taking hands-on action to treat and retrieve displaced animals due to authority restrictions until three days after deployment. When the green light was given, a 5:30 p.m. curfew was enforced, frustrating those in relief teams.
"I can appreciate the authority in the situation, but I hear the restrictions are really hampering the effort," says Julie Morris, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (ASPCA) senior vice president. "I hear stories from the field every evening, and that is always discussed."
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that 240 veterinarians and technicians have descended on the Gulf Coast region to stage emergency facilities for animals in need.
Caring hands: Thousands of displaced animals were being treated by VMATs and other volunteer veterinarians throughout the area.
Deployment of the four VMAT teams marks the largest simultaneous deployment of veterinary relief in U.S. history.
At press time, VMAT-1 was stationed at the New Orleans airport.
The team's assignment was to:
- Assist with agricultural and veterinary service assessments.
- Assist various communities with existing animal issues.
- Assist the Louisiana State University animal shelter at the coliseum and triage in the hospital.
- Assist VMAT-5 at Lamar-Dixon Animal Shelter.
The team reported treating up to 300 animals at the airport. Owners were permitted to take their animals when leaving the airport.
VMAT-5 provided veterinary care in Gonzales, La., at the Lamar-Dixon Equine Exhibition Center, having treated and examined 560 animals in 24 hours.
Some members from VMAT teams 1 and 5 formed a team stationed in Belle Chassee, Miss., and the LSU temporary animal shelter reported 1,479 patients examined or treated at presstime in Louisiana.
In early September VMATs assessed 74 veterinary facilities , according to an AVMA update.
Team members are examining the infrastructure of facilities and assessing the needs of each location. VMATs also are submitting requests by veterinarians for assistance and supplies through the governmental procurement system.
Veterinary Medical Assistance Team positions as of Sept. 10, 2005. The teams, however, are designed to be mobile and therefore are stationed dependent on veterinary needs. Source: FEMA
VMAT-2, stationed in Gulfport (near Biloxi, Miss.) were stabilizing patients while VMAT-3 took its emergency veterinary care to Hattiesburg, Miss. There was no estimated number of animals at these locations at presstime.
Ten days following the storm, information was spotty due to the Federal Emergency Management Association's (FEMA) press gag order.
Early on in rescue efforts, VMAT-1 was staging in Dallas, but was later deployed to various hurricane-torn areas.
"VMAT 1 consists of 11 veterinarians, 10 technicians and four support people," says Linc Hay, information officer for the team. "There is an overwhelming number of displaced animals, and no one knows if or when the animals can be reunited with the owners."
ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States, VMATs and Noah's Wish Disaster Relief, along with many other animal rescue teams, dove into the arduous task of evacuating animals stranded by the hurricane.
The Metairie Small Animal Hospital, the only semi-functioning hospital in the New Orleans flood zone, evacuated 175 animals to Louisiana State University (LSU), where the AgCenter's John M. Parker Coliseum housed approximately 913 owned-animals and LSU's Lamar-Dixon Expo Center housed about 800 stray and displaced horses, cats and dogs.
Although the ASPCA is not a search and rescue organization, the group sent aid upon the request of officials.
ASPCA sent rescue workers in addition to monetary relief, says Eric Rayvid, ASPCA spokesman. "We have an estimate of 483,000 pets living in the affected area. ASPCA has helped in the recovery of approximately 4,053 animals at this point."
The Houston, Louisiana and Mississippi SPCAs are working together, with the Houston shelter taking in an estimated 1,500 displaced animals.
The ASPCA reports a veterinarian in New Orleans was rescued from the Windy Boggs Medical Center rooftop after spending days in limbo with 50-plus animals. The animals were reportedly owned by hospital staff. Confirmation of the doctor's name was unavailable at presstime.
HSUS deployed 250 relief workers as of Sept. 7 while the society pleaded with federal, state and local officials to help rescue thousands of animals that remained unreachable days after the initial hurricane impact.
HSUS reports 125 people and 39 support vehicles worked in Louisiana and 100 people, and 17 vehicles in Mississippi were working in the relief effort at presstime.
"We are working around the clock to do everything in our power," says Belinda Mager, HSUS media relations. "I am going to a site to help organize efforts as well — we are supplying supplies, carriers and food along with all available relief workers."
HSUS established an online disaster center at www.hsus.org.
Animals rescued from Hurricane Katrina will also be posted on www.petfinder.com.