For nearly a month this fall, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) helped rescue and save animals injured and/or displaced by the California wildfires that ravaged much of the Napa Valley area. Whether it was performing search and rescue missions in the fire zones, aiding at evacuation centers, or caring for hospitalized animals, the SVM played a major role in helping the animals of Northern California.
On October 10, the SVM began coordinating with the California Veterinary Medical Association to respond to requests for assistance. The UC Davis veterinary hospital engaged its Disaster Response Leadership Team and initiated action to put the hospital on stand-by. Having experienced this same scenario two years prior with the Valley and Butte fires, the team prepared the hospital to accept and treat dozens of expected animal fire victims. The Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) also began preparing to assist first responders in the field.
Later that day, the veterinary hospital’s Equine Field Service responded to a request from Sonoma County and deployed a team of one resident veterinarian and three DVM students to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to provide veterinary care assistance to evacuated animals. Over the course of the next week, 16 veterinarians and students from the service would help care for scores of evacuated animals, in conjunction with many local veterinarians and members of the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps. Ultimately, upwards of 500 horses were evacuated to the fairgrounds. That week would also see 14 members of the Livestock Herd Health Service and one member of the Livestock Medicine Service join the efforts at the Sonoma and Solano County Fairgrounds and the Napa High School Vintage Farm evacuation centers.
For nearly two weeks, members of VERT and the Center for Equine Health (CEH) performed search and rescue missions throughout Napa, Sonoma and Solano Counties. In total, 29 veterinarians and students from those two groups would assist displaced animals in the fire zones.
On campus, the veterinary hospital received 77 animals over the next three weeks – one dog, one goose, one chicken, two llamas, 14 horses, 25 cats, and 33 koi fish.
“When all this started, who would’ve thought that the largest group of animals we treated from the fires would’ve been fish,” stated Dr. John Madigan, who led the efforts to save them.
While performing search and rescue operations throughout Sonoma County, Dr. Madigan and his VERT team came across a privately owned koi pond that had to be abandoned in the direness of the moment. As many residents in the area barely got out with their lives, there was no time to save animals that could not be rounded up quickly. Over the course of four days, VERT rescued nearly three dozen koi and transported them to the UC Davis Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture.
Once the koi were on campus, they were examined by Dr. Esteban Soto, who regularly treats koi as a faculty member with the Aquatic Animal Health unit, a division of the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service.
Many of the other animals received at the hospital were referred from veterinary centers closer to the fires. As those facilities became overwhelmed, animals were transported to UC Davis, as our larger facility could better handle the ever-increasing caseload. Caring for those hospitalized animals were many faculty and resident veterinarians from various services who volunteered their time to be assigned as the permanent caretakers of specific animals. With this continuity of care, the animals received the individualized attention that smaller hospitals were not able to provide.
Perhaps the true heroes for the hospitalized animals were the technicians and students who provided the everyday care duties. Burn victims are laborsome patients that require hours upon hours of hands-on care each day.
One of the school’s Facebook posts during the ordeal assured a cat’s owner that “we’ll love him as if our own.” That level of compassion can always be found in the veterinary hospital’s technicians and students.
Through social media, the school shared stories of the animals that reached 1.6 million viewers. 35 media opportunities took place during the month, resulting in articles in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, and several television newscasts. Because of this outreach, hundreds of people and organizations donated to help care for the animals, with more than $250,000 being raised for the UC Davis Veterinary Catastrophic Need Fund.
Donations of medical supplies came from An-Vision, Flexineb, Integra LifeSciences, Marqueen Animal Hospital, Merck, and Zoetis. Monetary donations came from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, Boehringer Ingelheim, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Equestrian Federation Equine Disaster Relief Fund, the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, and Wedgewood Village Pharmacy, as well as a significant contribution from SVM donor Katherine Harvey Burr.
Providing leadership throughout the crisis were:
Dr. Jane Sykes – chief veterinary medical officer
Dr. Larry Galuppo – interim director of Large Animal Clinic
Dr. Kate Hopper – director of Small Animal Clinic
Dr. John Madigan – director of VERT
Dr. Carrie Finno – director of CEH
Dr. Claudia Sonder – outreach director of CEH
Dr. Bret McNabb – chief of Livestock Herd Health Service
Dr. Meera Heller – chief of Livestock Medicine Service
Dr. Steve Epstein – chief of Emergency/Critical Care Service
Dr. Joie Watson – chief of Equine Field Service
Dr. Gary Magdesian – chief of Equine Medicine and Critical Care Services
To ensure that future animal victims of natural disasters are cared for, please consider donating to the Veterinary Catastrophic Need Fund.
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