UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
News & Events

Update from the School of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Emergency Response Team
Evaluation and Treatment of Animals Involved in the Yolo County fires

September 29, 2006

As most of you now know, the school’s Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) was activated to assist in the evacuation and care of animals affected by the Yolo County fires that started in the early morning hours of September 22, 2006. Fanned by wind speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour, the fire spread with unprecedented speed and ultimately charred 12 square miles of land, affecting many animals in its path. Numerous fire response units from as far away as Marin County were called in to assist with fire suppression and control.

At 5 a.m. Friday, Dr. Barry Ball, a faculty member in the School’s Department of Population Health and Reproduction, called to alert the VERT team, which responded immediately by arranging trailers for possible evacuation of horses and other animals. We assembled at a staging area in Woodland and met with Yolo County Animal Control officers to develop a coordinated plan.Trailers and veterinary vehicles then went into the fire area to locate affected animals and either provide emergency treatment in the field or transport animals to the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) for treatment. Several horses that had sustained burns were evacuated to VMTH early on Friday morning. We have a system in place at the VMTH to receive unidentified animals and provide treatment without delay.

TREATMENT WITHOUT DELAY

VERTTwo teams of veterinarians, including VMTH faculty and residents, accompanied by veterinary students and staff, worked through the area to locate injured animals. We became aware of several large flocks of sheep on isolated rangeland in the path of the fire in the Zamora area. We traveled to this area with Yolo County Animal Control officers and met the ranchers who own the flocks. We learned that more than 1,000 sheep had been exposed to the fire. Many burned sheep could be seen from the road, but the true magnitude and extent of their injuries could not be determined without examining them more closely. A plan was quickly developed and implemented to carefully examine affected animals, identify those needing treatment, and also recognize those that were suffering inhumanely and had no hope of recovery.

Many individuals from the VMTH responded to the crisis, and we had a great response from volunteers and members of the emergency team. Over the course of several days, more than 25 different faculty, residents, staff members and students participated in the evaluation and treatment of animals, traveling out on the range to find animals that were suffering or trapped. We treated many individual animals in the field.

At an early stage of this effort, we assembled a team of sheep medicine experts that included Drs. Joan Dean Rowe, John Angelos, Mike Lane, Bob Bonifacio and others to establish guidelines for approaching the types of injuries we were encountering in the various organ systems of affected sheep.The skin, eyes, noses, feet, and respiratory tracts were the areas most in need of attention. Each animal identified for treatment received medication for pain relief, and most were also treated with antibiotics, topical burn ointments, cleaning of noses and other nursing care as part of this extensive effort.

IRREVERSIBLE INJURIES ENCOUNTERED

VERTWe recognized that many sheep had severe burns, including a large number that had their hoofs completely burned off. We encountered animals that were down, unable to walk, and clearly suffering inhumanely from irreversible injuries. In these instances, the decision was made to end this suffering using the most humane method available. Fortunately, we were able to consult the very well-thought-out guidelines published by the American Veterinary Medical Association for humane euthanasia of sheep in the field. These guidelines were developed based on extensive input from veterinarians, humane organizations, and behaviorists, taking into account humane, ethical, environmental, and other considerations. We printed these guidelines for review by all those involved in this effort.

Administration of an overdose of pentobarbital, the method of euthanasia used most often for individual animals in the hospital setting, is not feasible for use in the field because of the real risk that environmental contamination will result in significant loss of birds such as eagles, hawks, crows and vultures that quickly descend on dead animals in the field before they can be removed. In accordance with AVMA guidelines, the method implemented for swift and humane field euthanasia during our efforts was small arms gunshot, carefully placed to instantaneously render unconsciousness and death.

Teams of volunteers from the VMTH have traveled to the Zamora area every day this week (September 24-29)to provide continued veterinary care and treatment to the several hundred sheep that were saved. It is heartening to all those involved in this incredible team effort to witness the dramatic positive response the surviving sheep have shown to the treatments administered by the many dedicated VERT volunteers. All can take a large measure of satisfaction from the fact that by relieving suffering and providing careful and humane treatment to so many animals, they have not only contributed to the health and welfare of countless sheep, but also helped their owners make it through this tragic event.

I will provide an update and review of this effort at noon on Tuesday, Oct 3 in Valley Hall Room 1020.

Sincerely,

John Madigan, DVM, MS, DACVIM
Head, Veterinary Emergency Response Team


See related story September 26

You can donate now to the
Veterinary Emergency Response Team fund to help treat these herds and support the team's ability to respond to future disasters.

Please contact the
Development Office, (530) 752-7024. You may mail a check or donate online to benefit the animals. Please make your check out to "UC Regents (for VERT)" and mail it to:

VMTH Financial Services
102 Admin Annex
UC Davis
Davis, CA 95616-5270

All donations are tax-deductible.

Thank you.