Disaster Response

Paws for the Philippines: The Power of One

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You, right now, are needed.

By now we have all seen and heard about the devastation wrought in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan. The stories are almost too much to bear.

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If you’re wondering why the media hasn’t been more active covering the story than they have been, it’s because everyone is still trying to get there. It is BAD. Bad, bad, awful, nightmarish. My heart goes out to those many souls and I will, as always, make a donation to the Red Cross to help the human victims.

The plight of the animals, domestic and wildlife, will almost certainly be overshadowed by the massive human suffering, but make no mistake, they are in dire need as well and even less likely to get it. I view animal welfare in a disaster as one more necessary component of disaster relief, not something to do later or when all the other needs are met, but in conjunction with other efforts. This is why there are veterinarians and animal welfare organizations who are trained for these sorts of situations. As always, World Vets has stepped up to help our friends across the world. After speaking with our contacts in the Philippines, World Vets is sending a team with requested immediate supplies and is on their way now. Once they have arrive, World Vets has committed to continuing support as the needs evolve. This will not be a short-term mission.

I am asking for you, you reading this, to do one thing. One act of love to support the animals whose lives and stories may never make CNN, but whose suffering, we know because our friends there are living it, is intense. Help the people, please, of course, and then do one thing for the animals. Just one. Please consider donating, it’s tax deductible and this fund is earmarked entirely for typhoon relief.

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I am donating one: one day’s worth of salary. That will be my one. You may choose to donate one day’s Starbucks. Or one dog leash. One dollar. One thousand dollars. Or nothing, of course, but I hope you can find one act of love you are willing to put into action. World Vets can take a whole lotta ones and make ONE BIG IMPACT on the lives in the Philippines. I invite you all to be a part, and to make November 15th the day you commit to One Act of Love. What’s your One?

Please help me get the word out and do some good! I can’t do it without you!

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Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , ,

Pet Disaster Relief: How It Works (hint: don’t show up without calling first)

September is National Preparedness Month, according to FEMA. It’s easy to see why. A lot of bad things happen in Mother Nature this time of year; Colorado the latest in a long series of national disasters to catch the eye of the nation. Few images are as evocative as that of a stranded animal, confused, petrified, and facing an uncertain fate while we sit in front of the TV and wonder, is anyone going to help him? How does animal rescue work?

Colorado horse

Katrina

According to Kim Little, my Technical Animal Rescue trainer who taught me in Nicaragua last year, the craziest rescue he ever participated in was a massive pet pot bellied pig stranded in a flooded home during Hurricane Katrina. If you ever meet him someday, ask him about it. Kim’s a pro, active in professional rescue training for decades. The animal rescue component, however, is relatively new.

RescuedCatKatrinaMost anyone who has been active in animal rescue long enough will tell you Katrina was the game changer in disaster response, for many different reasons. It was a mess in general, as we all know, but the animal component was almost nil. People who refused to evacuate because they couldn’t take their pets later required rescue themselves, preferring to risk death than abandon their beloved companion.

A person I met last weekend at my SEMS/ICS disaster response training spoke of a story from Katrina, a little girl who had evacuated with her cat. The cat was with her, safe, and she was told by the bus driver that would take them to safety that pets were not allowed. They must put the carrier down and leave the cat, no, there was nowhere for it to go, and they needed to leave, now. He said he was haunted by the sound of her screams as her bus pulled away, leaving the cat alone in the parking lot as he scrambled to find help.

That was in 2005, and it was awful. In 2006, President Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act into law. In a really oversimplified statement, it officially makes pets part of the national disaster response framework. In order for this to really function the way it was intended, though, there needs to be a plan at the local, county, and state levels for pets as well.

ICS

Emergency response trickles up. The National Guard is not called in for a small brush fire in San Diego. However, once that fire spreads beyond what the local fireman can handle, they request aid from the county, then on up to the state, then eventually in huge disasters, a federal level. In order to maintain order and safety in chaos, the manner in which these disasters are managed is consistent across the board: the Incident Command System. ICS provides a standardized response framework that functions the exact same way regardless of whether you’re dealing with a car accident on your street, or a 8.5 earthquake.

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It’s absolutely essential; communications breakdown in a rapidly changing situation can mean disaster. Because the system is standardized and the chain of command well defined, you can drop a fireman from Phoenix into Yosemite and he will know exactly what to do.

But is it the same for animal rescuers?

Pet Disaster Aid: The Government Part

As a vet, I can’t just show up to the flood line and ask if there’s a sick pet I can help. I would probably get myself killed standing around where the helicopter is supposed to land or something. This is why ICS is important, and why emergency management teams ask those who have not been trained not to “self deploy” in emergency situations. I’m minimally trained in disasters; my knowledge is pretty specific to pets. I tried to learn water rescue once; in the practice scenario, I killed myself and the victim I was supposed to be helping. My job became “stay on shore and make sure we have enough rope”, which is also essential and as it turns out something I was great at. To truly be helpful in these situations you need two things: a skill that is useful; knowledge of the command structure and who is going to be in charge of you.

Some of us were better at water rescue than others.

Some of us were better at water rescue than others.

During Hurricane Katrina, there was no one in the official government rescue effort tasked with helping animals. ASPCA and HSUS sent in large scale, well trained relief volunteers, and thank goodness they did because no one else was doing it. But without being part of the official effort, there’s no reimbursement from the government, and more importantly no official way to communicate with the other disaster responders on the ground who may have important information: for example, a person shows up at the Red Cross shelter with a dog; would they even know if/where the emergency shelter is? A fireman doing a swift water rescue on a person realizes the victim is with a horse; who do they call?

With PETS signed into law, states are now working to come up with a clear and well defined animal response plan that integrates into the other structures already in place. On a local level, that means working with animal control and local shelters to provide immediate sheltering and aid. As the situation escalates, larger groups come into play.

In my home state of California, the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps- of which I am a member- is the veterinary group that is mobilized on a state level- not until the governor declares a state of emergency. Colorado’s Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps functions similarly, and both are units of the National Medical Reserve Corps. Oversight groups such as PetAid Colorado and CARES in California are tasked with the bigger issue of figuring out how this all should also play out at the local level- all the people in charge before the governor gets involved. As well as pets, they are to come up with plans for all animals: livestock, zoos, farms…. you see how crazy this gets. MASSIVE task.

Private Disaster Aid: So Where is My Money Going?

So hang on, if there’s laws saying the government needs to plan to take care of animals, why are these other groups asking for money? Make no mistake, non-profits/NGOs still have a vital role to play here.

1. There are different type of disaster declarations and not every incident is eligible for state or federal aid. In smaller disasters, the first line of defense is the local community: your local SPCA, shelters, vets, and rescues. Their resources, as you know, are often strained. As a disaster gets larger in scope, their responsibilities only grow.

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Groups like American Humane Association provide invaluable support during disasters

2. An “official” government entity in charge may invite a nonprofit in to help. In Boulder, Animal Control was quickly overwhelmed at the flooding before them. They invited Code 3 Associates and American Humane Association’s Red Star rescue team, both exceptionally well trained animal rescue providers, in to help.

How Can I Help?

1. If you want to know who in Colorado needs help, BlogPaws- itself based in Colorado- has a great article listing local groups in action.

2. If you are a veterinary professional or someone with animal experience and you want to be on call for disasters, try searching “(name of your state) veterinary medical reserve corps”. The ASPCA also has an excellent list of disaster response training courses.

3. If you want to be better prepared for a disaster (and who doesn’t), check out this list of Animal Preparedness Tips from FEMA.

 

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , ,

Community

I grew up in a small New England town, surrounded by what by today’s standards would be considered ‘nosey’ neighbors. To this day I remember their names, the Kerrys and Kellys and Jeffreys and their parents who had no problems doling out discipline, dinner, and hugs in equal measure.

I’ve lived in many places since then. I can’t tell you what my neighbors’ names were; I’m not sure I knew it even then. When I was in vet school, a five year old boy down the street drowned in his pool. When a similar event happened in my childhood, the community swallowed the family up and kept them close during their grief. Contrast that to my later experience; this boy, who lived maybe 6 doors away, I read about in the paper. Community has, in a lot of places, simply eroded in the face of our transient lifestyle.

Or, perhaps, it’s just transformed. The address I call home may have changed many times over the years, but the community that has embraced me online has been a constant since I first started an online journal 11 years ago. I don’t think people have given up on community at all, so much as they have simply transcended geographical lines, giving us the freedom to define our own borders. Our world is simultaneously expanded tremendously and compacted intensely.

We all have a role to play in our community.

Wildfire

I almost didn’t make it to BlogPaws this year, for various reasons that aren’t all that interesting, but I was very fortunate that my friends at Purina were generous enough to sponsor my attendance and make it possible. I put names to faces and met new friends from AAHA as well as the leadership at pet360, both committed to the pet community. I caught up with old friends from BlogPaws past (and this time no one crashed the pool after hours.) I went home, happy and tired in equal measure.

Then a tornado hit Oklahoma.

Team Up For Oklahoma
“How can we help?” asked the BlogPaws leadership. And you know, we had some ideas.

Ideas are like wildfire. They can sputter and die on the ground, or, with enough kindling and wind, they can take the countryside by storm. As they have done in the past, BlogPaws mobilized the Blogger Disaster Response Network and supported the World Vets effort to send aid where it is needed most in the community. They planted the spark, and waited. And others joined in, AAHA and pet360 and all the individual community members so instrumental in spreading the idea through this, our amazing online community.

Disaster Response Recipients

Today is the last day of the World Vets fundraiser, and we are all so grateful for the support of this entire community in making it a success. Truly, we are a community that helps when it is needed.

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One of many pets in the midst of being reunited with their owners, thanks to tireless efforts from animal relief organizations. Photo: Boomer’s Animal Networking

World Vets has spoken with our members, our network, and the people at NARSC coordinating the national disaster response. We will be passing on 100% of the donations received in support of three tornado disaster response funds covering a wide variety of animal relief needs:

  1. Central Oklahoma Humane Society, one of the leading FEMA recommended local groups providing comprehensive support to displaced animals and getting them back to their owners;
  2. OSU Animal Relief Fund, providing veterinary care free of charge to the many injured animals both large and small;
  3. and Pampered Pets Veterinary Clinic Tornado Disaster Relief Fund, an AAHA member in Oklahoma who is donating needed supplies directly to affected individuals and smaller organizations in need.

We are tied not by our neighborhood borders but by something bigger. We are a global community. And I am so very proud to be a member of this wonderful group of people. Thank you everyone for your generous donations and your efforts to get the word out. It matters.

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Tinker was reunited with his owners at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society. Photo: Central Oklahoma Humane Society

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , , , , , ,

And then the rescuer drowned: Dumb Vet Tricks Part 5

Being set up in the house with all my computer equipment finally reassembled means I can do what I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while: fill you in on more of the disaster response trip I did with World Vets in Nicaragua. I think the last time I had left it, we had just spent a day in the classroom learning disaster response techniques and were about to put our skills to the test.

Day 2 was the water course. I’m not the strongest swimmer, so this was the part I was a wee bit nervous about. As you will see, this was with good reason. The universe does not think I should do a lot of things in the water. But first, a lovely picture from our tour of Granada on the first day to set the stage for calm:

You can see why Granada was a favorite sacking locale for centuries of marauding pirates.

But I digress! We spent our water day at Laguna de Apoyo, a blessedly warm and quiescent lake in the crater of a volcano. Many disaster response training sessions focus on swift water rescue, which adds layers upon layers of difficulty when you are dealing with the mechanics of walls of water moving at different rates down a riverbed. Before you get there, you need to know the basics, such as how to put on a life jacket. You’d be surprised at what a complex piece of equipment a professional quality life preserver is. It’s like strapping into an extremely padded corset.

“Double check everything,” stressed our instructor Kim. “Make someone else check it. ALWAYS. SAFETY FIRST.” And I agreed, so I did just that, the first time.

By the third time I took the jacket off and on, sharing it with another participant, I was confident in my buckling abilities so I bypassed the check mechanism in order to get to the good stuff. Like how to throw a rescue rope.

You can throw it overhand, underhand, or sidearm, depending on your strength and accuracy. We were lobbing those ropes like pros in no time.

Having satisfied himself that we weren’t going to strangle ourselves accidentally, Kim divided us into teams. While one team got on a boat to practice rescuing a pet from the boat, the remaining group would stay on shore and take turns being a victim, throwing the rope, and swimming out to the victim to swim him or her back in. The person doing the swimming would do it both unassisted (you’re on your own) and assisted (meaning you are attached by a rope to someone on shore, who pulls you back in.)

First, I swam out to my victim and pulled her back in. Being a kind person she decided not to feign being panicked, hitting me, or trying to crawl on my back, which I guess isn’t that uncommon. We made it back in safely.

Next, I hooked the rope up to the carabiner on the back of my vest, and we re-set the stage for me to have an assisted rescue.

I reached my victim.

I waited for the reassuring pull of the rope.

“Man, they’re lagging,” I said. We floated about for a minute or two. I heard yelling.

“WHAT?” I said to the people on shore.

“This is the part where you both die,” they said. It was at this time I noticed the carabiner, with rope still attached, floating about 20 feet away, nowhere near me or my life vest. Again, good thing we were in a lake, right? As you can see, it was fortunate we were a) in 5 feet of still water and b) within rowing distance of Team B, had this been an actual emergency.

I swam sheepishly into shore on my own power, wondering what sort of defective piece of equipment I had been handed.

And of course, when I got to shore and assessed the breakdown, it turns out my dumb self had neglected to insert Tab A into Slot B on the waist belt buckle, meaning as soon as there was any tension, it popped right open, pulling the threaded carabiner with it.

There are routines you do because you’re trained to do them- counting sponges after surgery, for example, or double checking stumps for hemostasis before closure. Or in this case, make someone check all 15 buckles on your life preserver, every time. Because it’s not about making sure your chest is comfortably contained- it’s the difference between getting pulled to shore and screaming in frustration as you and your victim swirl off the waterfall downstream. Which is the stuff of my nightmares. Actually it should more appropriately be the stuff of anyone else’s nightmares, should they find themselves drowning and see me headed in to save them.

Lesson: learned. Don’t worry. It won’t happen again.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , ,

True or false: The World Vets Technical Animal Course rocked

“What time does your flight land?”

My husband asks me this every time I go to Nicaragua (OK, it’s only been twice, but still.) He asks because the State Department brief on Nicaragua mentions armed robberies along the highways at night, and he is worried that this will happen to me. And I appreciate his concern, I do, but I sometimes wonder what the State Department would say if it were telling travelers what to do when travelling out of LAX, an airport I lived by for 5 years, or what he would have said had he known I was hopping into a taxi by myself at 1 am in Nairobi, something he didn’t think twice about when I mentioned it after the fact but everyone who has actually BEEN to Nairobi thought was a particularly gutsy stupid thing to do.

The point is, you take calculated risks all the time in life, and do the best you can to protect yourself, because at the end of the day the coolest things in life require that tiny element of risk. Why did the chicken cross the road and all of that. Despite wanting to be able to talk about my mad danger cred, I have to be honest: not all countries in Central and South America can say the same, but Nicaragua was not a worrisome destination for me. At all.

For those who don’t recall why I am talking about Nicaragua, I was there a few weeks ago as part of the Inaugural Technical Animal Rescue course with World Vets. I didn’t talk about it too much beforehand for the simple fact that I really didn’t know what we were going to be doing, other than ‘learning technical animal rescue’ and that I would need a life preserver, but the element of surprise is what makes these adventures so great. And because I ended the course with a test, you get one too. That’s how we roll here. That’s how you LEARN, people.

True or false: Most travelers to Nicaragua end up robbed, jailed, or otherwise victimized.

The area of Nicaragua we were in (Granada) feels very safe. Violent crime is certainly more rare than it is here in San Diego, and the only assault I had was on my dignity during that awkward massage (but I digress). All that stuff you hear about the terrible Nicaraguan jails on Locked Up Abroad? Told by people who were smuggling drugs. Don’t do that. This place is crawling with tourists, who come with money to spend, and the community doesn’t want to jeopardize that by showing people a bad time.

True or false: Granada is ugly.

Granada is gorgeous. It is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, founded in 1542. That means there are lots of old, old churches;

Strange incongruous city blocks whose architecture depends on what century it was built in and which pirate burned it down;

And walls stretching to the horizon, punctuated by doors that lead into the unknown; could be a pharmacy. Could be a pile of rubble. Or it could be a beautifully manicured courtyard, such as that at Casa la Merced, where we were fortunate enough to stay.

I opened my bedroom door to this every day. Hideous.

True or false: World Vets hired some random bozo to teach the course as a front because we all just wanted to go to Granada.

On the first day of the course, we met our instructor, Kim Little from Rescue 3. The first thing we learned about him is that he has been teaching rescue courses professionally for three decades.

The second thing I learned is that he is teaching us the same material taught to the HSUS Disaster Response team and all the other big players you see on the news when disasters happen domestically. So we learned the real deal, FEMA certified, official course. By the way, if you ever invite Kim over for dinner, which you should, ask him to tell you stories from his rescue work during Hurricane Katrina. There’s a story with a tiger, and another story involving a massive pig, a crate, and a film crew.

And the third thing I learned was:

SAFETY FIRST

This is important, as I will get to when I talk about how during lake practice I accidentally demonstrated how one might accidentally kill both oneself and one’s victim during a water rescue, if one forgets this cardinal law.

True or false: Technical Animal Rescue involves the most complicated and expensive elaborate machinery that exists.

After our first day doing classwork, reviewing the hydrodynamics of swift water rescue and me getting to gleefully nerd out on vectors and flow diagrams, we sat down with the meat and potatoes of any rescue team: bags of ropes and carabiners.

It’s amazing what you can do with rope. No, really.

We spent more time doing knots than anything else in this course. Knots, and knots, and more knots. Knots that swivel and knots that pull and knots with two loops and knots that lay flat.

Those who have done climbing fared better than the others, but we all got it eventually. Dr. Augusto Barragan from Panama, seen here with Dr. Lester Tapia from Granada, was particularly adept. He spent a lot of time sitting opposite me trying to explain in his non-native language what I was doing wrong.

Answer: taking too many pictures.

Jen, having quickly mastered the lessons due to her climbing experience, started to freestyle.

Kim had but three precious days to whip this motley bunch of veterinary do-gooders into cool, calm rescue pros who could grab a duffle bag of ropes and clips, look over the edge of a ravine at a dog and human in distress, and figure out how to magically transform those tools into a successful rescue. After that first day of tumbled knots, things were looking grim, but we persevered.

Day One: The newly formed team gathers at the defunct Granada train station, wondering what we had in store.

But did we learn enough? Stay tuned.

Filed: Adventures, Blog, Daily Life, Disaster Response, Features Tagged: , , ,

Disaster Survival 101

As Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, I, like many of you I’m sure, am remembering Hurricane Katrina. The relief when it was downgraded from a 5, to a 4, then a 3. It’s not going to be that bad. That relief turning to horror as the levees failed, a slow-motion catastrophe whose impact is still evident throughout the region and in the hearts of the millions affected.

To those in the area, I wish you one thing, to be safe. My thoughts are with you.

I can only hope that you have been able to use that warning time to come up with an evacuation plan for your pets as well. The tragedy there last time was almost too much to bear, people who could not take their pets to evacuation sites, leaving them for what they thought was just going to be a few days. Those pets, left for weeks, died. Those who made it to the outskirts were sometimes reunited with their owners, often not. Abandoned and alone while their owners despaired. Or another horror, those who were unable to secure a safe option for their pets and elected to ignore evacuation orders instead of leaving their pets behind, those who paid the ultimate price for their loyalty.

We have learned much from that disaster.

If you are not in the middle of this storm right now, watching the news with the luxury of room to breathe and think, I urge you to take just a few moments to ask yourself if you have a plan in place for your household. We all have some sort of looming natural disaster that could crop up unexpectedly, be it a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, or a wildfire. We are all susceptible to that unexpected fright in the middle of the night, the need to get out, fast.

1. Plan to take your pet with you.

We all like to assume it’s no big deal, right? We’ll be back, it’s a false alarm, etc. It’s human nature to do that. But if that road closes behind you, they’re not letting you back in for your pet, no matter how distraught you are. Our emergency personnel are charged with protecting you. You are charged with protecting your pets.

Make it easy to get out fast. Don’t have your cat carrier buried in the attic somewhere you can’t reach in five minutes, which may be all the time you have. We keep ours in the hall closet, right under the leashes, which can be grabbed in seconds.

2. Have your tags, microchip, and/or GPS up to date and on your pet.

What if a big earthquake hit while you were at work? Roads closed, pets panicking, running out through a shattered window. Is your neighbor’s number programmed into your cell so you can call them to check on your pet (or vice versa)? Week after week we hear amazing tales of pets reunited with their owners after months, years, due to a microchip. These identifiers work, but only if the tags are on, the GPS is charged, and the microchip contact information is up to date.

Is your microchip info up to date? Not sure? Check it. Do it now while you’re thinking of it. I’ll wait.

3. Know where you can go.

Not all shelters will take pets. Have a list of hotels/motels that will accept pets bookmarked. Shelters, usually overburdened under normal circumstances, may not be prepared for an influx of pets. In our area, local veterinarians have been wonderful about taking in pets of evacuated people after our multiple wildfires, so don’t overlook this underutilized resource- we want to help.

Don’t have your regular vet AND an emergency vet number programmed into your phone? Another thing you can do right now. That never hurts.

4. Have a disaster kit.

We have an earthquake kit in our pantry, with all the stuff we’ve been told to have at the ready to keep us going if the big one hits. We also have some pet items in there, a small bag of dog food, a few cans of cat food- enough for a week, a couple collapsible bowls, easy to take if needed. A photocopy of vaccine records. Disposable litter pans. Basic stuff.

This is obviously a pretty basic list. It can get exponentially more complicated than this, with elaborate first aid kits, toys, blankets, and other nice to have items, but these few things will allow you to get out with your pets quickly. The rest you can deal with later.

5. Look out for one another

Maybe you aren’t close with your neighbors, maybe you only wave to them in passing, but I bet you know who has a pet and who doesn’t. Well, at least you probably know who has a dog. I, of course, know everyone’s pets, but that’s only because they all come to me for free advice. Nonetheless, I would happily cram all their pets into my car if I had to evacuate while the owners were at work. There have been a couple of times we came close.

What’s your emergency plan? Or do you have one?

 

Filed: Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , ,

Auction summary

One of my relatives was looking at me in befuddlement this week as I sat at the computer at 1 in the morning, tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, looking over my shoulder at the pictures I was uploading for one of the auctions. “It seems like a ton of work.”

I nodded magnanimously. Truth is, I was sharing the guest bedroom with my mother and she was snoring so I would have been up anyway- so it was either raising funds for the Red Cross or playing Peggle. Every time I started to regret taking this on, I’d flip on CNN and immediately regret regretting anything.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I have a little bit of an explanation here. Short version is, buy some pet stuff and support Red Cross. That’s really the gist of it.

Now that all the auctions are live, I’ve combined the week of individual listings all into one massive gargantuan mosaic of awesomeness so you can gaze in wonder all in one peek. But to make your life easier, since it is one massive picture and list, I’ve placed it dramatically behind a jump.

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Filed: Disaster Response