by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Sharon Murphy is an elderly resident of New Orleans. She shares her small dingy apartment on Dumaine Street with her very dear friend, Bagelah. Only one small window offers any light even during the day and for the week after Katrina struck, Sharon had to carefully ration candles and water in order for them to survive. Sharon would not even consider evacuation until both she and Bagelah could leave together. Bagelah, you see, is a little disabled dachshund. Paralyzed in both back legs by intervertebral disc disease, everyone in the neighbourhood knows her as Dog-on-Wheels Bagelah. "The shelters won't take dogs and I won't leave without her. But we'll be okay, Bagelah and me.", Sharon told reporters a week after the hurricane. There were many others like Sharon, in the city, who were willing to risk their lives rather than abandon a pet.
Now as the massive relief effort begins to assist the victims of hurricane Katrina, what about the animals injured or abandoned or left without medical care as a result of the storm? Who is helping them? In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team ( VMAT) was mobilized by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Four highly trained VMAT teams, composed of veterinarians, veterinary technicians and support personnel have been deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi. VMATs begin with overall assessments of veterinary facilities, animal issues, and public health issues. Their main goal is to coordinate efforts with the veterinary community, state and local authorities and humane organizations. The VMAT efforts are made possible by grants from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Anyone wishing to support the VMAT program may donate online at www.avnf.org or call 1-800-248-2862 ext.6689.
It is perhaps a very appropriate time for any pet owner to review what they should do in an attempt to assure the well-being of their pet, if faced with an emergency evacuation order. While we in this area are less likely to be forced from our homes due to hurricane threats we are by no means immune to other disasters that could do so. Tornadoes, floods, fires, blizzards, gas leaks and hazardous material spills, all are such potential dangers.
Remember, it is always best to be very cautious and heed fully any disaster warning. If you prepare ahead of time and have some plans in place, it is the best way to keep you and your family, including your pets, out of danger.
Here are some points to keep in mind.
• Consider making an appointment with your veterinarian about planning for your pets during disasters.
• Assemble an animal evacuation kit. It should include such things as a 2 week supply of food and water, copies of medical records and proof of ownership, a first aid kit, leashes and collars, cage/carrier and any required medications for your pet.
• Develop an evacuation plan. Locate and perhaps prearrange an evacuation site for your family and pets outside your immediate area. This could be a friend/relative or a pet-friendly hotel or even a pet boarding facility (50-100 km. distant). Prepare a list of emergency contacts (addresses and phone numbers) -where you may be reached, your pre-arranged evacuation site, local police and fire department, public health officials, your veterinarian and an alternate, 50-100 km. away. Keep a copy near your telephone and in your evacuation kit.
• Have your pet identified properly with a microchip or tags or both. Have a current photo of you and your pet in the evacuation kit to assist in reclaiming your pet if lost.
• Have plans in case you are not at home. Designate a willing neighbour who has a key to your home, knows how many pets you have and is aware of your evacuation procedures. Pre-place stickers on front and back house doors to alert rescue personnel there are animals on your property.