Besides the work veterinarians do as shelter vets, there are other circumstances that bring veterinary rescue into light–natural disasters. In light of the recent flooding in Louisiana, it is important to understand just what we (veterinarians and others alike) can do to help people by helping their animals.
Often, in times of crisis, an animal can be the driving force for rebuilding, especially when all else is lost. Our job as veterinarians in times of crisis is to know what we can do and what we can’t. It really comes down to being prepared for anything, because when disaster strikes, it can be difficult for anyone, let alone those in professions that are supposed to help, to see through the chaos or your own loss. When we see the human-animal bond providing such a strong positive force for our clients and friends every day, how can we ignore what healing that bond might provide for those who have been through something awful?
Luckily, at Texas A&M, we have a required fourth year rotation with our traveling “Veterinary Emergency Team,” which has helped countless animals over the years in times of disaster. The team is deployed during these times to help communities heal by healing animals and reuniting them with their owners. This means that the veterinary students here, like me, will be able to graduate with unique qualifications that allow us to know how to react in these kind of situations. Even when there aren’t disasters (which we hope for), the team trains together and uses virtual simulations and modules to understand how to best plan for helping people in times of crisis. We learn how to be prepared, and that can serve us well when it’s our own community that is affected.
The other thing we have to do, though, is work together among the community of veterinarians in our areas. While teams like the A&M Veterinary Emergency Team are extremely helpful and do so much good, deployments are physically, mentally, and emotionally draining on the students and clinicians who are on rotation. One of the best things we can do as veterinarians is have a disaster plan for ourselves and our practices, too. What will our clinic offer? What if our own homes are affected? What will we do when shelters fill up or need extra help because of displaced animals? What plan do we have for keeping our own pets safe?
While it can be tough to imagine being in such a situation, these disasters often happen with little warning, and it is important for us to have a plan in place not only for ourselves and our homes and pets, but a plan to serve our community as stewards of its animals as well.