While recent news stories have concentrated on efforts to rescue people whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed, a massive relief effort for animals also is under way.
Since people reluctant to leave behind beloved pets may slow an evacuation, animal rescue and relief efforts are vital to overall disaster management, said Nishi Dhupa, director of emergency and critical care services at the Companion Animal Hospital at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Taking initiative to aid the animal rescue process, Cornell's Veterinary College has already sent supplies to Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge, La., which has been overwhelmed since the New Orleans flood.
Basic emergency medical supplies from Cornell, including intravenous fluids, catheters, antibiotics, syringes, suture material and bandages arrived Sept. 3 at LSU. The Veterinary College will be sending another larger shipment of emergency medical supplies today (Sept. 7).
A team of trained volunteers, including four Cornell staff veterinarians and two senior students, will be flying to LSU on Sunday, Sept. 11, said Dhupa. Next weekend, another team of five or six trained people from Cornell will travel as well. Each team will stay a total of two weeks. LSU has modified a recreational center to house volunteers.
Cornell Veterinary College Dean Don Smith has been in steady communication with LSU to work out details concerning how Cornell can best help relief efforts.
"Right now they need people with expertise," Dhupa said. "They are in desperate need of personnel in both the shelters and their own hospitals." She added that the LSU Veterinary School's hospital is now short of veterinarians and technicians due to the demand for skilled workers in the local animal shelters.
The Hurricane Katrina Emergency Animal Shelter set up at LSU's John M. Parker Coliseum currently holds some 500 animals. Many more animals are expected as they are rescued from the New Orleans area.
At present, animal search teams have entered some of the worst-hit areas of New Orleans and are rescuing and bringing many more injured animals to the LSU shelter.
"A few days ago the people at LSU said it was just the tip of the iceberg," Dhupa said. "It's just ramping up now."
Most of the animals are pets, including dogs, cats and some horses. The facility shelters animals whose owners are staying at nearby Red Cross shelters in Baton Rouge. The coliseum also houses animals that were patients at a variety of animal hospitals and shelters in New Orleans as well as rescued animals that have lost their owners. Since animals are not allowed in human shelters, accommodating pets, or "companion animals," is critical, said Dhupa.
As local and state authorities slowly secure areas in New Orleans and allow citizens to return to their houses, pet owners are encouraged to pick up their stranded animals. Otherwise, only official animal handlers and veterinarians on search and rescue teams are allowed into flooded restricted areas.
If owners need a place to house their pets, LSU has agreed to keep them until owners can permanently take their pets back.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association), the Louisiana Animal Control Association, the LSU AgCenter and the LSU Veterinary School are managing animal evacuations and recovery plans for New Orleans' pets and displaced animals.
Cornell's Veterinary College also has been in contact with Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Starkville, Miss., about aiding in relief efforts there.
To learn more about the animal relief efforts at LSU, donations and volunteering, visit: http://www.vetmed.lsu.edu/.