Katrina: The long road to recovery - DVM
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Katrina: The long road to recovery


"We initially asked the National Guard to assist us by taking the animals to a drop off point that they would be passing on their route," Mayer says. "But when red tape got in the way, we asked one of the parish officials to help, which in turn sent busses two days after the hurricane that took about 100 animals and one doctor; then another bus came Thursday."

The veterinarians waded through 3- to 4-feet-deep water to load the animals on busses before setting out again to help other stranded animals.

"We went out of the hospital to give fresh water and food to animals we knew were in homes," Mayer says. "My partner and I saw horrible things. People had sandbagged their homes hoping it would be enough to keep Katrina out. After the storm, sandbags were everywhere, so at first I thought I was looking at a sandbag, but it was actually a body. No one wants to talk about this; it's just unreal."

Some of the animals had perished in homes before the doctors could reach them, but Mayer says he chooses to focus on moving forward to not become overwhelmed by the calamity.

The partners held a meeting to strategize, determining a skeleton crew best suited the needs of clients and the practice.

"Our generator is repaired, but we don't want to take a chance it will give out again," Mayer says. "We have water pressure, but no general power. At this point, we'll assist emergencies and not take boarders in case the generator goes out again."

Dr. Rene Baumer, an associate at Metairie Small Animal Hospital, left the area before the hurricane hit but reports his greater New Orleans home is underwater.

"When I was leaving the area, I saw a client of mine getting food for his dog an hour outside of the city," Baumer recalls. "He said he was going to ride out the storm."

Looters became a concern for the veterinarians who did stay, citing concerns for their safety, especially at night.

"We had heard all sorts of things about people breaking into stores, doing whatever suited them," Mayer says. "None of us slept very well at night thinking about that and the immensity of the situation."


The veterinarians at Metairie stayed in the halls of their practice where fans helped circulate airflow. Throughout the hurricane the animals had generator-powered air conditioning while the veterinarians had only fans.

"When we were preparing for the hurricane, we filled sinks, bathtubs and garbage cans with water," Mayer notes. "We were prepared for everything except for where we would bathe. So for five days we went without showers or air conditioning, but we were dedicated to the animal relief effort."

Animals at surrounding practices reportedly perished from dehydration due to the intense heat and lack of water.

"With no generators, the inside of buildings became as hot as a car with the windows rolled up," he says.

While Mayer predicts many people will not return to the area, he remains optimistic that many will be eager to rebuild as well.

Other areas weren't so lucky.

LVMA President Dr. Robert Gross used to practice in Chalmette, La., a New Orleans suburb, but that was before the hurricane. Although authorities have not allowed civilians in the area, he knows the area is completely flooded.

"Rumors are flying," Gross says. "I don't quite know what will happen at this point, but there is talk of never reclaiming St. Bernard Parish due to toxins, benzine and oil in the water."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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