Archived News

School of Veterinary Medicine Supports Katrina Response 

September 9, 2005

The urge to assist in whatever way possible during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has spread throughout the country, including the School of Veterinary Medicine. Several animal-related efforts are being developed to support animal rescue, veterinary care and consultation, public health concerns, and related issues.


The Center for Equine Health (CEH) has for several years maintained an Animal Rescue and Disaster Relief endowment to provide funding for the rescue and treatment of animal victims of disaster and to develop new equipment and techniques that promote saving these animals during such crises. Because of the widespread hardship and trauma to thousands of animals in the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast region, the CEH, in conjunction with its research faculty and Dean Bennie Osburn, took the unprecedented step of transferring funds from this disaster relief endowment to assist the veterinary schools at Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University so that they can continue to be responsive to the needs of their regions. Although this gesture seems small in the face of such a burden, the hope is that it will set a precedent for other institutions and individuals to follow so that the needs of these animal victims can be met.


Responding to their student colleagues across the country, the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association in Davis is gathering donations from the School of Veterinary Medicine community for regional animal rescue and care. Funds will assist Lousiana State University, where the veterinary school student and faculty volunteers are providing housing and veterinary services for animals. Donations will also support the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, which is arranging for temporary shelter of displaced animals in many locations throughout the state. 


The Veterinary Emergency Response Team, which can assist in the rescue of large animals, is prepared to conduct airlift rescues if necessary.


Shelter MedicineTrained veterinary student volunteers of the Pet Loss Support Hotline are available Monday-Friday, 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (Pacific Time) to answer calls about coping with grief after the loss of a pet. The toll-free number is 800-565-1526. Veterinary students who staff the Pet Loss Support Hotline at UC Davis are beginning to hear from Hurricane Katrina survivors, including one call from a woman who had to leave her cats behind when she was rescued from her attic and relocated to the Houston Astrodome.

"The experience of losing a beloved animal is one of the hardest emotional trials to endure at any time, but having to essentially abandon a precious pet or multiple pets dramatically complicates the emotional well-being of people who are already stressed beyond what most of us can even imagine," said Bonnie Mader, a counselor who specializes in attachment to animals and pet loss and directs the hotline program for UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine.

One of the 11 students staffing the hotline provided contact information about the service to several of the major animal rescue organizations, which in turn have posted it on their Web sites. Mader is providing additional training for students on how to provide a specific type of support in the wake of the hurricane. The main messages to callers who have been separated from their animals is that they should maintain a sense of hope and remember that numerous animal rescue organizations are searching and caring for displaced animals.

"Unless you know for sure that loved ones -- human or animal -- have perished, you must hold out hope for them," Mader said. "Both dogs and cats are very resilient and can swim. In many cases, it's just going to take time to reunite them with their families."

In addition to finding a listening ear and reassurance, callers to the hotline will be sent appropriate materials, free of charge, and referred to support services in their area. In the case of the woman in the Astrodome, Mader says the hotline staff alerted the relief organization closest to her home in Louisiana and provided a description of the woman's cats. The hotline staff will also send follow-up correspondence now that the Astrodome has its own ZIP code.

The first of its kind, the Pet Loss Support Hotline was established in 1989 to allow people to express their feelings related to the death or impending loss of an animal companion. The hotline also provides valuable training for the future veterinarians, preparing them to express compassion and provide emotional support for pet owners. More information about the Pet Loss Support Line is available online at 


Shelter MedicineThe American Veterinary Medical Association has activated its national Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams to provide veterinarians, pharmacists and other animal health professionals at selected sites near New Orleans. As of September 13, one veterinary pharmacist had been sent to the area and another was awaiting FEMA authorization to travel as a member of VMAT. 

Calls from various humane organizations for volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians and veterinary students have come to the school. To date at least one student has volunteered through an animal rescue group and a postdoctoral student/veterinarian has traveled to Jackson, MS to provide medical care in a temporary shelter. An internal medicine resident spent September 14-25 in the town of Gonzales, near New Orleans, caring for sick animals abandoned during the flooding. Another veterinarian from the teaching hospital has volunteered to work in a shelter in Hattiesburg, MS sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. This shelter is providing basic emergency care and infectious disease prevention to small animals. Up to 600 rescued animals have been sheltered there to date with about 100 more entering the facility each day. 

A teaching hospital employee based in Computer Services is volunteering on a Disaster Action Team of the Red Cross in Sacramento, where a center has been established for evacuees. This volunteer interviews clients and connects them with medical care, lodging, FEMA, funds for food and clothing, mental health services, and assistance in tracing loved ones and friends.

Individuals may volunteer as the need arises and schedules permit. The university, with supervisor approval, has authorized employees who volunteer to be paid during their absence.  


Disasters that involve flooding are well-known sources of disease of great concern to public health officials. In addition to the commonly recognized waterborne diseases of typhoid, cholera and dysentery, a large host of infectious zoonotic organisms (those that can transmit disease from animals to humans) may be encountered in flood-contaminated waters.

Marcia Merryman, DVM, from the Education Section of the National Center for Foreign Animal & Zoonotic Disease Defense has prepared the fact sheet, "Prevention of Waterborne Zoonotic Disease."

Download a PDF version of this resource here: 
Prevention of Waterborne Zoonotic Disease 

Download the free Acrobat reader from Adobe


One Shelter Medicine Program resident has been deployed to assist with shelter health issues on site. Animals affected by flooding have been rescued, sheltered temporarily and removed to California to await reunions with their owners or placement in new homes. The Shelter Medicine Program is consulting with municipal and private animal shelters that have taken in dozens of animals, particularly in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Shelter medicine veterinarians help shelter personnel recognize and manage problems associated with introducing this new group of animals into an existing shelter population. Program personnel provide sanitation guidelines to prevent the spread of animal disease and protect human health. The program also offers protocols for diagnostic screening and risk assessment of potential infectious diseases. These guidelines are being updated frequently.

In tandem with Shelter Medicine activities, the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital is providing specialized diagnostic and treatment services at no charge for these high-risk animals referred by the participating shelters.

Sunday, September 18, a dozen student volunteers working with the Shelter Medicine program processed about 40 animals staying at the Marin Humane Society. Students examined pets, tested dogs for heartworm, screened cats for FeLV/FIV, collected specimens to be analyzed at the teaching hospital, and performed other diagnostics and treatments. This effort is expected to be ongoing as more animals arrive in the California through animal rescue activities during the next few weeks.

Shelter personnel can find resources online such as recommendations for refeeding starved animals and vaccination protocols at the Shelter Medicine Program Web site.


The Center for Laboratory Animal Science has offered kennel space at its facility and is prepared to care for up to 36 dogs at the request of Yolo County officials working with regional shelter agencies.

The center provides a full-spectrum of animal care, including animal husbandry and veterinary care services. Facilities and animal programs of this center are managed to provide quality humane animal care in compliance with federal, state, and university laws, regulations, and policies.

Last updated September 26, 2005

Media Contact:

Lynn Narlesky, Senior Writer, Office of the Dean, (530) 752-5257