Mary Lummis, shelter veterinarian with the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team, talks with representatives from the Tompkins County SPCA.

Workshop prepares New York animal shelters for disasters

Attendees of the workshop begin live simulation training.

Representatives from local animal shelters received a crash course in disaster preparedness May 5-6 during a workshop at the College of Veterinary Medicine aimed at safeguarding pets should a crisis strike the area.

Animal welfare workers from 12 New York state-based humane organizations attended the workshop. Members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team (FIR) walked participants through running emergency pop-up shelters and live-action simulations.

Most nonprofit animal shelters are unable to obtain the funding needed to receive this sort of supplementary training, which gave the college’s shelter medicine group, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, the idea to provide a free continuing education option for humane workers in the region.

“They’ll be the ones people rely on when disaster strikes, and if they don’t have the training, they can’t take care of our pets,” said Sarah Nickerson, program coordinator.

Shelters often request financial and response assistance from the ASPCA in crisis scenarios because of budget limitations. The FIR team responds to approximately 30 disasters each year, from natural crises like tornadoes and floods to manmade situations like dogfighting and hoarding. The program brought them in so that local animal welfare workers could learn from their expertise without breaking the bank.

“As a group, we’ve talked about wanting to do this [training] for a long time, but until we were afforded this opportunity, the training seemed financially prohibitive,” said Georgie Taylor, president of the Humane Society of Schuyler County.

The weekend focused on companion animal welfare and was supported by an Engaged Opportunity Grant from the Office of Engagement Initiatives. In future years, Cornell has plans to expand disaster response training to farm animals to better serve the high density of farms in the Finger Lakes. They also hope to develop a course and similar workshop for Cornell veterinary students to prepare graduates to effectively lead responses during crisis situations.

Melanie Greaver Cordova is a staff writer with the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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