Archived News

Clinical and Community Support to Wildfire Victims


October 20, 2016

One of the cats saved in a local fire is lucky to be reunited with his owner.

One of the cats saved in a local fire is lucky to be reunited with his owner.

Centrally located in Northern California, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is ideally positioned to act as a vital community resource for California communities affected by wildfires. Specially-trained veterinarians and students assist local authorities in rescuing and evacuating animals to safer areas, and the school itself serves as a potential large animal evacuation center. School communications officials work with the media to update the public on timely issues regarding animal safety and health care during fires, and also assist the community by creating resource pages and coordinating efforts to reunite lost animals with their owners. Resources include:

•    Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) – When county and state officials need expert assistance with rescuing or evacuating large animals, VERT is activated. Led by Dr. John Madigan, VERT played a significant role in 2015’s Wragg, Valley and Butte Fires. Not only does the team help people and animals in crisis, it also provides on-the-scene emergency training for residents and students, giving them valuable experience they cannot get in an on-campus setting. With many large animal veterinarians practicing in rural areas, these hands-on opportunities help students acclimate to situations they will encounter in their future careers. As part of the International Animal Welfare Training Institute, VERT provides seminars and workshops on disaster preparedness, disaster response, and rescue methods to individuals and agencies involved with animals. VERT also develops protocols for integrated emergency and disaster response, equipment used in rescue, and creates local and national guidelines for care of animals in emergencies and disasters.

•    Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) – Burned animals need extensive care, sometimes requiring around-the-clock monitoring and several bandage changes per day. Small veterinary clinics treating animals during wildfires may not have the resources to provide this level of treatment. The VMTH serves those clinics as a referral hospital to take in patients needing more care. During the Valley and Butte Fires, which broke out simultaneously in the late summer of 2015, the VMTH took in 56 animals from front-line clinics. These animals—40 cats, 5 chickens, 4 horses, 2 pigs, 2 goats, 2 dogs, and 1 rabbit—were treated for severe burns and injuries sustained trying to flee the fires. The VMTH was able to successfully meet this need due to the sheer size of its team – 125 faculty veterinarians, 350 staff members, and 135 fourth-year students. The “all hands on deck” situation called for coordination from every level of the hospital, with faculty, staff and students all coming together to make the influx of emergency patients as smooth as possible. All of this was handled during a time when the specialty hospital was already at nearly 90 percent capacity with normal patients unrelated to the fires.

•    Center for Equine Health (CEH) – Beyond its research activities to improve equine health, the CEH is committed to providing the public with resources needed to assist equine owners in safe evacuation during disasters. Its publication, the Horse Report, committed an entire issue to educating owners on what to do in emergencies. CEH also provides several other resources for horse owners in times of need.

•    Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) – WIFSS has a number of courses and projects dealing with animals in disasters, including helping to organize farm preparedness fairs, training first responders and participating in state-wide planning for dealing with animals in emergencies. WIFSS also has a variety of online resources available on its website, including the American Veterinary Medical Association’s introduction to disaster preparation for the whole family. For all animal owners, the most important message about evacuation is that when you evacuate your home, don’t leave your pets behind.

Truly acting as a resource for California, the school and its people go above and beyond in critical situations to be a part of ensuring the safety of the state’s citizens and their beloved animals. Although gained through unfortunate circumstances, these experiences proved to be valuable learning opportunities for students and veterinarians training at the school. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to help during these disasters shines a bright light on California’s future.