Expo Center Crowded; Equine Evacuees Doing Well

The continual sound of dogs barking and an occasional worried whinny was audible in the background as Dennis French, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, of Louisiana State University's (LSU) veterinary school, gave an update on the equine evacuees at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La. There have been a handful of equine veterinary emergencies over the past several days, but currently all of the horses, anywhere from 250 to 350--French isn't sure--are medically stable and doing well. Space is an issue, as it was expected to be, as waves of cats and dogs are arriving by the hour, adding to the already large volume of small animals and horses at the facility.

As for the owners that have been reunited with their horses, "a lot of folks are sort of walking around here starry eyed," he said, as a result of the emotional trauma of the past 10 days or more.

"Probably our biggest problem here is just a space issue, and we're just trying to sort it out," French described. "We're sharing space with the small animal people, and they're just overwhelmed, I would say, because hundreds of dogs are coming in. Many of our horse trailers are going down and coming back filled up with dogs rather than horses…but the horses seem to be in pretty good shape."

"Yesterday was a very tense day," explained French, "People were overwhelmed. When you get about 60 new head of horses in and no stalls…I've thrown all my organizational skills up in the air.

"I just helped turn a number of horses loose in an arena--they're separated by sex, of course," he continued. "We've got an awful lot of stallions that don't play in the sandbox really well with the other horses, which create a bit of a stabling issue as well, but we're coping."

Medical Cases at the Center
Since The Horse last spoke with French on Tuesday night, the center has taken in only had three more horses with serious medical problems. The first two horses have not been identified yet, so please be sure to contact the LSU Horse Hurricane Helpline or schurch@TheHorse.com if your horses are missing and these animals sound familiar.

Case #1--Colic (Wed. night)--On Wednesday night (Sept. 7), a "sorrel and white Paint mare," that had been in the initial evacuation of 63 horses from Kenner, La., to the expo center, began to colic. French had a forklift operator lift him up into the rafters of the barn to hang a fluid line for the mare.

Ann Davidson, DVM, MS, just finished her residency at Colorado State University and has been helping French and the other veterinarians, technicians, and students with caring for the evacuees. French said, "She's been helping from morning until night and she was managing that case, and it was getting to the point where we were going to have to make a decision," whether to euthanatize the horse or send it to surgery.

"I was going to have to be the bad guy--finances for relief (of horse hurricane evacuees) is one thing, but colic surgery is a whole other ball game," he added. "It was about 11:30pm at night, we were medicating the horse every hour, and it was getting to the point where we need to make a call on it.

"I had the euthanasia solution in my hand, and Ann says, 'Let me monitor this a little while longer and see if she gets painful,' " described French. Davidson watched the mare until 5am, and when French checked in at 6:30, she was bright-eyed, standing up, and much better. "Sometimes tincture, time, and miracles come through."

French hopes the mare, named Pynett (according to the manager of her home farm), can be reunited with her owners, especially after the mare made such a big recovery. She is about 10 years old and stands at 15.2 hands.

Case #2: Acute Founder--Another horse that has not been identified is a black "Saddlebred-type" mare. "On Wednesday she came off the trailer looking tied-up, and I noticed as we got her in a stall, she was stiff all over and potentially a laminitis/founder case," French said. "The students looked at it and we did some triage on her and got a TPR (recorded her temperature, pulse, and respiration) and the whole nine yards and called it a muscle soreness issue and medicated her.

"Hours later, she was looking really bad," he continued. "We jumped on her a little heavier with her anti-inflammatories, and she was up bouncing around the stall the next morning! She's on decreasing meds right now and walking pretty normal."

French said that even though the case was unfortunate, the veterinary students have had the chance to manage an acute laminitis case and chronic laminitis cases that have come into the evacuation center over the past week. These are positive experiences for their education.

This particular mare is about 15.2 hands and was taken out of the St. Bernard Parish area.

Case #3: Neurologic Signs--French said another horse that came in on Wednesday night began showing neurologic signs (she was "pretty drunk and tipsy and not knowing where she was") yesterday afternoon (Sept. 8) around 4:30pm. By 8pm, French and veterinary students had given her doses of steroids and DMSO. "She was bright and alert this morning, and she's going to recover too," said French.

Another involved case is a Paint mare that developed some photosensitization on the areas of pink skin covering her body. French thinks the condition might be associated with her ingestion of and exposure to the floodwater, rather than just being out in the sun for too long. He's currently running liver enzymes on the mare to learn more about her case.

"She's under a roof in the barn and she and her foal, who has a big puncture wound on the back of a front leg and a big support bandage up to his elbow, are sort of the classic medical evacuees," French said, "all bandaged up and painted with skin salve, all slimy and stocky."

The owner of this mare and foal, a fireman, has been reunited with most of his horses. He evacuated six or eight horses to the center in a four-horse slant-load trailer with the partitions removed, which isn't unusual for disaster recovery, said French. "It was maxed out for sure, but that's what they have to do to get them out of there.

"He (the fireman) was missing a couple horses the day before, and as he and his family were walking through the barn, they found their other horse," he added. "This was definitely a relief. The family's sleeping at the division commander's floor, and the whole family is housed with him as they look for reassignment and think about where they're going to go next. They lost their home and the horses are all that's left.

Overall, "everybody's got some boo-boos," French said in a southern Louisiana style that transformed the long "u" pronunciation into a long "o." "Beyond that, there are just maintenance needs, and everything's going along pretty smooth.

Tips for Future Disaster Planning
French said that the caretakers have encountered a notable problem--only a few of the evacuated horses were identifiable in any way. "From a public education perspective, that's one thing that you can really help us with," he told The Horse. From painting a working phone number (of a family member or friend that is out of town and not likely to be hit by the storm) on the side of the horse or on its hooves, to getting the horse microchipped, tattooed, or branded, there are many ways you can increase the likelihood of a reunion with your horses after a natural disaster.

Also, he recommends turning out your horses rather than keeping them in their stalls if you have to leave them behind. "Faced with this situation, that would be a wonderful thing for them to do. The horses that are turned loose were clearly better off than those in the stalls. A lot of the horses that were in stall are unfortunately still there," meaning they drowned.

Even though 60% of the horses remain nameless, except for nicknames given by caretakers, there have been some happy endings. "My wife was telling me yesterday that she had crushed ribs (when she helped an owner find their horse), and I thought the horse had gotten her!" French said. He started heading toward the stall to see why the mare was throwing her weight around, "but she said 'No, no, one of the owners, she was so excited she picked me up off the ground and hugged me so hard my ribs were crushed!' "

Long-Term Solutions?
Meanwhile, scores of LSU officials, rescue teams, and other volunteers are working inexhaustibly to continue their rescue efforts and care for horses. They're also trying to decipher options for long-term care of the evacuees.

"We're unsure on how this is all going to play out with regard to the abandoned horses, people needing whatever kind of help, and the legal issues," French said. "That's the next step."

The gargantuan team of dedicated volunteers has made the center into a makeshift boarding stable, which is easily accessible and controllable with regard to veterinary care. French compliments his veterinary students repeatedly and everyone who has made the rescue and care of the equines possible.

He hopes that more volunteers will come in the barns at the expo center and help clean stalls and change water buckets--the chores that keep everyone busy around the clock. As many as 25 rigs were standing idling outside the barns today beside volunteers waiting to get a call to perform rescues, but French said that volunteers' presence is needed just as much inside the barns, managing the evacuees, as it is outside waiting for the call. If you are in the Baton Rouge area and would like to help with these tasks, please call the LSU hotline (225/578-9501).

In terms of supplies, "We don't need feed, and we're short on hay only because we've been sending some out. But there is hay from various places coming, and we have plenty of medical supplies," said French. "It's just a matter of getting the structure together to mobilize these horses and allow people to get back to their lives.

"The vet team is in pretty good shape," he added. "Have the readers say a prayer for us and we'll keep going."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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