Florida VETS Team Helping Vets and Owners

On Friday morning, Oct. 28, John Haven, Director of the Veterinary School at the University of Florida and head of the Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service (VETS) Team, said, "It's been an interesting two days. Got a call this morning from Palm Beach Equine (veterinary clinic), and they are running on a generator and are fine with fuel. They've been performing surgeries at their practice. They've got 300 stalls in their barns and have been holding some animals (evacuated from Hurricane Wilma) there. But, their fleet of emergency vehicles is running low on fuel."

He and Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, were driving in Saturday morning (Oct. 29) with 180 gallons of fuel. "I've got two big tanks in the bed of my truck," explained Haven. "Our truck will be classified as an emergency vehicle, so we can go into emergency sites. We've done that for a couple of places."

Fuel shortages have been a major problem with electrical power outages over such a large area of south Florida. Many vet clinics have generators, but only a few days' supply of fuel. In order to keep veterinary services available to the public, the VETS Team has been making frequent fuel supply runs into the hardest-hit areas.

One such fuel run was for a small veterinary practice in Belle Glade, Fla., on southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee. The practice's owner is the only vet--large or small--for miles and her practice had been running on a small generator, and she was running out of fuel. "So we got her fuel so she can provide vet care," said Haven.

The VETS Team has also coordinated some mutual aid with veterinary practices running low on supplies. They would find one that had extra of what another vet needed and put the two in touch. Some of the most common supplies that were running out were IV fluids and some drugs. He said companion animals--dogs and cats--were not drinking the best water and were vomiting and had diarrhea, and they were getting dehydrated. He said several companies were shipping in extra supplies for the practitioners.

Haven said they had been contacting all the large and small animal veterinarians in the hurricane-stricken areas, and by Friday they had received a lot of call-backs. Many are back up and running with electricity because they are located in the same areas as shopping centers, which are being targeted to have electricity restored first because of food and fuel concerns.

"The number one problem is the owner's ability to get an animal to a place for care," said Haven. "We put a lot of effort in Dade County for four very large referral practices. When the small practices were without a generator, or ones that ran out of fuel closed, they sent clients to the referral centers. But those guys (at the referral clinics) are on gas generators, so after 24-48 hours, they were running out of fuel. We trucked fuel down to them. Some of neighboring practitioners came over and helped (work with patients).

"There are some weary folks there now," said Haven, "but all four are back on electrical now."

He said a lot of people didn't have enough gas in their cars or generators for vet practices. "A lot of people didn't think the storm would hit as hard as it did," he said.

The Birth of VETS

When asked when the VETS Team was first developed, Haven said, "Last year was first time during Hurricane Charlie that the state was hit bad enough that the state Department of Agriculture asked the vet school to put team together to do care. We didn't have a lot of experience to do that because it wasn't part of a plan. We put couple of doctors and students in with Code 3 (Rescue) from Colorado and provided care for a couple of weeks after Hurricane Charlie. We also have helped with a couple of other hurricanes."

He said the VETS Team got together with the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) after Hurricane Gene with Marion County veterinarians and had a response role.

After last year's hurricane season, Haven said the University of Florida's Dean Joseph A. DiPietro, DVM, equine extension vet Dana Zimmel, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ABVP (and a member of The Horse's AAEP Editorial Advisory Board), and director of the university's new Mobile Equine Diagnostic Science (MEDS) program Michel Porter, DVM, PhD, all felt the university would get called to do response work again. Haven said they met with Florida state veterinarian Thomas J. Holt, DVM, and started creating the framework for VETS.

"The basic idea is myself as branch director and Dr. Porter in charge of large animal and Dr. Cynda Crawford in charge of small animals," explained Haven. The VETS team works with the state animal response team (SART) for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"We are now part of the state's assessment team," Haven said. "Our job specifically is to help reach out to local practitioners and assess their ability to provide quality care in their communities and help them get up to where they can provide that care. If needed, our second role is to put together a treatment hospital--like a MASH (mobile Army surgical hospital) for equine or companion animals.

"Fortunately in this case mostly our job has been assessment, and we've been able to remotely coordinate practitioners to work together," said Haven. "The best response is a local response. We'll spend a lot of time in the off season this year to try to reach out to lot of practitioners--large and small--to improve on our system before next hurricane season."

He said at the moment, things being handled pretty well and there is no need for outside rescue, feed, or supplies at this time. He said the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was on-site at the command center, "and they are talking to (animals) shelters to make sure they are okay."

On Oct. 27, HSUS air evacuated 140 animals out of south Florida to Denver to make room at the local shelters for animals from this hurricane. One of the facts that local officials have realized is that after a hurricane, many animals without owners are taken into the local system and need to be placed in permanent care.

He said additional animal control people had come in to help. He said those people specialize in feed procurement, staging, and distribution if feed stores are wiped out for large and small animals.

"They bring in a lot of animal control officers to make sure everything is okay in the streets with animals," said Haven. "They are good at what they do. They get a lot of strays."

He said currently, the number one problem is still fuel, and he felt that would be better by today (Oct. 31). "We'll plug the gaps to make sure communities can get quality vet care," he stated.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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