It was a borrowed party bus full of animals.
A vehicle normally reserved for revelry was packed with shelter and rescue animals that were helpless to escape the flood waters in Louisiana this past August. Michelle Ingram, Director of Zeus’ Rescues and owner of Zeus’ Place boarding and grooming in New Orleans, sprang into action when many of the rescue centers in the area were going underwater. The lives of hundreds of animals were in danger.
“Twenty-four injured animals were transported and brought back to local veterinarians’ offices to be treated. The flood waters came so fast that some shelters were unable to do anything else in such a short amount of time. Rescue centers were opening the kennel doors and letting dogs and cats swim for their lives,” said Kellie Grengs, grant director and volunteer for Zeus’ Rescues. The boarding and grooming services help to fund the rescue side of the organization, covering the medical expenses and care for abandoned pets looking for forever homes from all across Louisiana.
After eight days of rescue trips, local volunteers were able to convene and help, so Michelle then headed back home to New Orleans. Zeus’ Place took in more than 250 animals from the Baton Rouge area, many of them needing medical care.
Hurricane Katrina changed the way animals are treated during emergencies thanks to the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards in 2006. It was an amendment to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.1 Congress compelled first responders to save pets just as they save people.
For example, Zeus’ Place has a policy for all animals boarding at their facility during hurricane season. They evacuate all pets regardless of the category of the hurricane, even if the hurricane may pass quickly, since they could be without power and potable water for a long period of time.2
Veterinary Protocol In Emergency Situations
I spoke with Brian A. DiGangi, DVM, MS, DABVP, Clinical Associate Professor of Shelter Medicine with the University of Florida, Veterinary Community Outreach Program about emergency response protocol:
Q. What determines a situation where you would evacuate animals?
A. Any time that people are being evacuated from an area impacted by a disaster, consideration should be given to evacuating the animals as well. In fact, the law requires communities to have a plan for the care of pets whose owners have been forced to leave their own homes. Shelters should also have an evacuation plan in place for both natural and man-made disasters.
Fires and floods are some of the more common reasons why a shelter might need to relocate its animals, but any time there is the threat of physical damage to animal housing areas or the possibility of an extended period without electricity, it should be considered.
Q. What is your protocol for helping shelter and rescues?
A. The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is a lead member of the Florida State Agriculture Response Team. As such, our Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service (VETS) is occasionally called to assist in response to a natural or man-made disaster that impacts animals. In addition, the VETS team is ready to deploy whenever an emergency has been officially declared by the state or federal government.
The AVMA’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT) serve as first responders to ensure high-quality care of animals during disasters and other emergencies. When requested by a state, VMATs provide operational emergency response programs to state animal health authorities and preparedness programs to state animal health authorities, veterinary medical associations, and other relevant organizations.
For over 20 years, dedicated volunteers who work with the VMAT program help ensure that all animals - pets, livestock, zoo animals and wildlife - receive the care they need during times of crisis.3 These trained disaster teams are well-equipped to handle almost any animal-related emergency that can arise.
But we must not forget the other selfless acts to save animals from harm’s way that are seldom heard of, but quietly out there, like the work of Michelle Ingram---along with shelter and rescue volunteers, pet foster families, and pet parents all across the country.
SHELTERS AND RESCUE WORKING TOGETHER
On a quiet, unassuming suburban street, the house looked like any other in Howell, New Jersey. A routine call to animal control about a dog on the loose in the neighborhood uncovered more than anyone expected: an out-ofcontrol animal hoarding situation that was the worst the county had ever seen.1
It was the power of many animal rescue organizations and shelters working together that helped change the fate of the dogs living in squalid, unsanitary conditions. The Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, the Associated Humane Society Shelter in Tinton Falls, Animal Alliance of New Jersey, Father John’s Animal House, Second Chance Pet Adoption League, Cold Nose Warm Heart NJ, and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge all took in the dogs to try and help.
“We expected around 80 dogs. We ended up extracting 280 dogs out of the house,” said Heather Cammisa, President and CEO of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, who is an advisory member of the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey and member of the Humane Society of the United States’ Companion Animal Advisory Council. “Ross Licitra, Chief of the Monmouth County SPCA called us in to help with the removal and eventual rehoming of the dogs, along with other partner shelter and rescue organizations.”
Many breeds of small dogs were found and removed over a period of twelve hours. Dogs were even found living in the walls of the home, on bookshelves, and anywhere they could find a space to stand.
“A majority of the dogs had intestinal parasites, fleas, skin issues, and some were pregnant. The dogs hadn’t been socialized with outside people. They were very social with other dogs (obviously) but some needed a lot of socialization with people, while others adapted right away,” said Ms. Cammisa.
Hoarding was once considered an anomaly, but there has been a greater prevalence and surge in cases over the past year. As with other acts of animal cruelty, it may be impossible to know for sure what motivates the abuse inflicted by hoarders. We do know:
- Most common animal victims of hoarders are cats, followed by dogs
- Recidivism rates for hoarders are almost 100%
- 72% of hoarders are women2
According to the Animal Legal Defense fund (ALDF), it is likely that up to a quarter million animals–250,000 per year–are victims of hoarders. Records kept by ALDF indicate that in the last four years, the number of reported hoarding cases has more than doubled. In terms of the number of animals affected and the degree and duration of their suffering, hoarding is the number one animal cruelty crisis facing companion animals in communities throughout the country.3
“Situations like [the case in] Howell are tragic. But it raised awareness and it touched people’s hearts. We had a broad outpouring of support from all over the country and the animal welfare system came together – it worked,” said Ms. Cammisa.
Human outreach is also a critical component needed to address the complex, somewhat silent psychological issue of animal hoarding in communities. It requires help from social services, civic organizations, law enforcement, and mental health professionals. Most importantly, it requires all of us to look around in our neighborhoods and families—and to ask questions or speak up when something doesn’t look or feel right.
The relationships and networking within the animal welfare system formed a strong safety net for the animals. All of the dogs from the Howell case sheltered by St. Hubert’s, except for a litter of puppies, have been adopted— and found their forever homes.
THE SHELTER EXPERT IN YOUR COMPUTER
Have you ever wished there was a knowledgeable mentor standing at your shoulder as you work or volunteer for a shelter or rescue group?
You may not have the time to go back to school and study sheltering, but thanks to the distance learning program at the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Online Programs at the University of Florida, the education you need is as close as your computer. Offered entirely online, the courses include a shelter medicine certificate credential as well as a Master’s degree program.
Terry Spencer, DVM, MEd., who heads up the program, “While there are textbooks you can buy and guidelines you can read out there, we designed our program to really explore the topics with leading experts in the sheltering field. Even better, you’re able to get input and feedback from your peers literally all over the world.”
Those topics include:
- Integrating veterinary medicine with shelter systems
- Shelter animal physical health
- Shelter animal behavior and wellness
- Veterinary forensic medicine
- How to prevent and manage infectious disease
- How to assess shelter practices against the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters
Non-veterinary professionals shouldn’t let the term “shelter medicine” make them think the course isn’t for them. “It’s incredible to have shelter directors thinking in terms of operations and budgets engaging with veterinarians who are thinking about medicine and behavior, or to have animal control officers learning to work with vets to gather evidence in cases they are investigating” said Dr. Spencer.
One such animal control officer is 24-year-old Lauren Townsley, who was working as a humane officer in Monterey, California, when she enrolled as a Master’s degree student.
“I felt very welcomed as a non-vet,” she said. “There are students from all over the world, where everything is different – procedures, laws, even things like vaccines. People have changed what they’re doing in the shelter, and are able to report back so we all learn from it. I’d encourage other non-vets to take the course; it’s worth it even just for the connections you make with other people in the field.”
Connection was also important to veterinarian Dr. Aimee Dalrymple, another Master’s degree student. “The courses are very interactive, and use multi-media, videos, reading, and exercises,” she said. “The online discussions and live chats create a great environment of support, community, and understanding.”
Dr. Dalrymple was working for several shelters and rescue groups in Massachusetts when she learned about the online program. “In my day to day work, I have new knowledge and resources to answer questions about infectious diseases, behavior, and environmental health,” she said. “We were able to successfully contain a ringworm outbreak and treat the animals using what I’ve learned. I worked with a private vet, too, so I’ve been able to put collaboration into practice with great results for the animals.”
Like Townsley, Dr. Dalrymple encourages others to take the course. “It’s provided me with the knowledge and skills I need that are different from private practice,” she said. “For example, shelter animal behavior is something I was interested in but didn’t have any training in. Now I recognize so much more in my patients that I learned through the course, that we can use to alleviate stress and make them a lot healthier and happier.”
One of the most rewarding things about the program for Dr. Spencer is seeing its positive impact for animals. For example, one student joked that she was going to take what she had learned about disease outbreaks and put it in a folder marked, “In case of outbreak, open here.”
Not long after, Dr. Spencer said, she needed to open that folder. “They had distemper in their shelter. She took out the binder and in a situation that would have in the past led to high levels of euthanasia, they did not lose a single animal.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the online shelter medicine course, including a standalone short course in compassion fatigue strategies, visit http://onlinesheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/.
PREPARING AND PREVENTING: GETTING THE WORD OUT FOR WORLD RABIES DAY
Once a week in a rural Oklahoma community, pet owners line up to bring their dogs and cats into the low-cost spay-neuter clinic for rabies vaccinations. Happy Paws Animal Shelter, a privately funded organization, works with the surrounding six counties to offer critical vaccinations, along with spay-neuter surgeries at a discount to people who are financially disadvantaged, but want to do the best they can for their pet.
In one day, Happy Paws vaccinated 85 dogs for rabies—their shelter record. “Our community really responds to the low-cost rabies vaccine program, and dogs that come into our shelter are immediately vaccinated against this disease and others in order to prepare them for adoption,” said shelter director Kate Paris.
The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) issued new guidance in February 2016 which advised that cats and dogs that are exposed to rabies and are overdue for a vaccine can have a booster shot followed by an observation period rather than be subject to quarantine or euthanasia.1
Awareness of this deadly disease is highlighted on September 28th with World Rabies Day, a global health observance that seeks to raise awareness about rabies and enhance prevention and control efforts. It has been co-sponsored by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Alliance for Rabies Control (ARC) since 2007.2 And according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than half of all rabid domestic animals reported in the U.S. in 2014 were found in 5 U.S. states: Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.3
This event is an opportunity for animal shelters to help potential adopters take steps to help prevent and control rabies, such as keeping up on a veterinarian-recommended vaccine schedule for their dogs and cats—and to provide them with education on how to help their pets avoid animals that typically transmit rabies: raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes.4
There is a great public health benefit in ensuring that all dogs and cats leaving animal shelters are vaccinated for rabies. Rabies vaccinations in shelters, however, are sometimes complicated by local regulations regarding the level of veterinary supervision required for administration.4 For example, in some cases it is not permissible to give the rabies vaccine without direct veterinary supervision. In those cases, if local regulations/ veterinary staffing permit, rabies vaccine should be given at intake for dogs for whom a long term shelter stay is anticipated, and for all dogs in shelters where virtually all dogs are adopted.4
Preventing and controlling rabies truly begins at the community level, where shelters and pet parents can take the necessary steps to keep animals free from the disease. Health officials play an instrumental role in making sure people have the ability to take action and learn just how deadly rabies can be. “Rabies vaccinations are part of our intake protocol,” said shelter director Paris. “We want to make sure the animals are given every chance to get or stay healthy--and get adopted.”