Thousands of animals were left homeless in the wake of Hurrican Katrina, unable to find food or clean water, not to mention their owners.
Exposed to bacteria, strong sun and oppressive heat, they had no access to medication for days after the storm subsided. Much like their human counterparts, they had nowhere to go. Unlike the millions of people who found solace in shelters right away, many animals were alone for days before being rescued and brought to veterinary clinics across the South.
The College of Veterinary Medicine responded to the growing crisis of displaced animals as soon as phone lines and internet service was restored at veterinary facilities in the affected area.
Beginning with a package of catheters, antibiotics, bandages, sutures and leashes, sent Sept. 2, the veterinary college has donated significant material and monetary aid to non-human hurricane victims. They sent a second package on Sept. 7 that included even more medical supplies.
The veterinary college also sent four members of its staff, including veterinarians and technicians, and two senior-level students to Baton Rouge on Sunday to help the affected animals.
“The response here has been incredible. Students have gone all-out,” said Dr. Nishi Dhupa, Director of Emergency and Critical Care at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. She is overseeing the veterinary college’s response to the hurricane.
The college has been sending supplies and monetary aid to the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, which is running a temporary shelter at the LSU AgCenter Parker Coliseum. The facility usually hosts rodeos and livestock shows.
The LSU facility is housing nearly 1,100 cats, dogs and rabbits, and even a few chickens, ducks and pigs. Prof. Joseph Taboada from LSU, one of the operation’s organizers, explained that the facility is sheltering pets that are known to have owners, but whose owners cannot care for them at this time. Another building nearby is hosting more than 300 rescued and stray animals, as well as horses that cannot be accommodated in the LSU arena.
Animals entered the shelter with head stress and severe dehydration. Some, including older pets who had not received medication in a few days, were more critical patients and were treated for renal disease, bacterial infections or flare-ups of arthritis.
Dhupa explained that animals are very important to people experiencing trauma of this magnitude. When displaced, many people find comfort in companionship, especially with animals that have become part of their lives. “By helping the animals, you’re also very directly helping the people,” Dhupa said.
Ginger Guttner, public relations cooordinator for LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said that although the veterinarians there are working on a rotating shift schedule, they are still exhausted.
“With any situation like this, you’re burned out, even if you don’t want to admit it to yourself,” she said.
LSU is still running its regular veterinary medical clinic but it has a depleted staff.
In addition to the six Cornell veterinarians who went to Baton Rouge on Sunday, Dhupa said another six are expected to leave next weekend. They will stay for one to two weeks, providing what the veterinary college’s Dean Donald Smith called “critical support.”
After that period, the administration will re-assess where Cornell’s expertise and supplies would be most effective. In a message sent to students in the college Thursday, Smith stated that the number of animals that need medical care and shelter “poses a monumental series of challenges” to the LSU veterinary staff.
Smith told students that they could help defray the aid package’s expenses, which are “escalating rapidly,” by donating to the college’s Katrina Fund or other animal organizations like the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association or the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Students who did not have the training to help out in Baton Rouge immediately organized a school-wide bake sale to raise money on Friday.
Cornell has also made contact with the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Starkville, where doctors are traveling to the surrounding areas to help animals in need. They are currently just asking for monetary support.
Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Editor