Equine Rescue: A Group Effort in Louisiana

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many horses in the New Orleans area are currently in need of relief and evacuation. The human response to this need has been overwhelming, and the ability to effectively approach the situation is increasing in strength by the minute.
 
Due to the incredible number of difficulties presented as a result of the flooding and storm damage in New Orleans, equine rescue has yet to occur on a large scale but is expected to begin as early as Saturday morning. Accessibility is largely restricted at this point, due to downed power lines and high water levels throughout the city.

While the green light for full horse rescue operations has yet to be granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), many organizations and individuals that represent the equine industry in Louisiana and the surrounding region are preparing for the rescue approach in hopes of the best outcome possible.

"Currently VMAT teams are on the ground working in cooperation with FEMA and the USDA," said Dr. Rustin Moore, Director of the LSU Equine Clinic in Baton Rouge. The teams will assess the situation and will then coordinate all of the necessary information to the USDA, FEMA and to Dr. Martha Littlefield, the Louisiana Assistant State Veterinarian. "When authorities are ready to utilize the resources that are in place, we can then start to see horses being brought out, stabilized and placed in a location where owners can identify and claim them," said Dr. Moore.

USDA officials successfully facilitated access of teams to Kenner, La., on Thursday and recovered approximately 63 head of horses from two separate boarding facilities. These horses were brought to the first staging area for displaced horses at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., north of New Orleans. The horses were evaluated; treated; and provided shelter, feed and water by numerous volunteers, all of which were under the supervision of Dr. Dennis French, one of the LSU Equine Clinic staff veterinarians.

Countless calls to the LSU Horse Hurricane Hotline (225/578-9501) have been pouring in throughout the day and are being fielded 24/7 by staff members at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Clinic. "We're having people calling from in and around the greater New Orleans area who know where their horses are located, and they know what their situation is," said Dr. Moore. "Identifying and logging these locations will be very helpful to VMAT and the USDA in the next few days in creating an effective strategy to approaching each evacuation."

Other callers are those standing by with trucks and horse trailers that are willing to go and assist with retrieval of stranded horses when travel to the various destinations within the city of New Orleans is possible.

The largest group of people calling the helpline are those with available pasture, feed, stalls, and supplies who are willing to open their doors to horses in need. "We have people throughout Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, North and South Carolina and other areas calling during the day and night offering to help assist with these displaced horses. There is a web-based database at www.lahg.net where people can list their farm, stable, backyard, or whatever they have to offer," said Dr. Moore.

"If they don't have Internet access we take all the information down and enter it for them. Bonnie Clark with the Louisiana Horseman's Guide and current President of the Louisiana Equine Council, has had this in place for a quite while now, and it has really been timely with the issues that we're facing now," said Dr. Moore. "Once the capabilities of these groups are put into place, we should see a pretty effective rescue approach being carried out in a timely and efficient manner."

As has been seen with the human rescue efforts, the logistical problems this disaster represents are simply too complex for any one group to tackle alone. With effective communication among several groups--from FEMA right along to single volunteers with an empty stall and a horse trailer--anything is possible.

Anyone interested in providing financial assistance to the effort is encouraged to make their contributions to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association's Dr. Walter J. Ernst, Jr. Memorial Foundation. This fund is established specifically for emergency efforts to help animals. By simply visiting www.lvma.org" target=_blank, potential contributors can click on "Hurricane Relief Fund" on the home page to download the form. Simply designating "Horse Rescue" on your check will ensure its use for the equine rescue effort. For more information or to make donations, please call the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine at 225/578-9900 (www.vetmed.lsu.edu) or the LVMA at 800/524-2996.

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