Heeding the call to care

Heeding the call to care

Heeding the call to care
Nov 01, 2005

When Senior Editor Jennifer Fiala and I boarded the flight for Baton Rouge, La., following the most destructive hurricanes on record, I had no idea what to expect.

Dr.Gary Levy (left), who lost his five-doctor practice, and DVM Newsmagazine Editor Daniel R.Verdon look out on New Orlean's Lake Pontchartrain, a stone's throw from the breached levee that caused severe flooding.
Neither did Dr. Janet Triplett, a veterinarian from Larchmont, N.Y., who found her seat next to me on the flight. With a tent and sleeping bag, Dr. Triplett was on her way to Gonzales, La., to help in whatever way she could. From our count, the story of personal sacrifice has been repeated by thousands of DVMs and veterinary technicians who volunteered in the hurricane-touched states making up the greatest pet rescue in history. Our goal was to document their stories.

The first day, we watched the ongoing work of veterinarians heeding the call at Louisiana State University (LSU) despite the high humidity and sweltering heat. We heard stories of volunteer veterinarians and Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams working 15-hour days in a tour that has now amassed into more than six weeks.

The next morning, our small caravan made its way across the bridge from the suburb of Metaire into New Orleans through a National Guard checkpoint. We saw the damage — trees and power lines snapped like twigs, abandoned streets, the breached 17th St. Canal levee, the brown flood-line tattooing every home and business, cars in ruin, a fresh brigade of insurance appraisers, the stench, the bright orange painted demarcation of search and rescue teams still looking for survivors — all a backdrop to a level of destruction unprecedented in the United States. This was the shell of an American city.

Fourth-year LSU veterinary student Toby Wallis (left) helps this rescued Doberman recover from its injuries sustained in Katrina.
And yet the contrast of the caring and giving nature of veterinarians and technicians during this catastrophe was as stark as a silhouette. Whether DVMs suffered through these storms or helped its victims heal, their sacrifices need to be recognized. They showed up. They took risks. They cared for and sheltered the less fortunate. It's heroism measured by multiple acts of caring extended to one patient, one cage at a time.

Drs. Patrick McSweeney and Gary Levy lost a home and practice, respectively, yet unwavering in their generosity to clients and pets. Texas A&M veterinarians harbored human burn victims in the large animal clinic during Rita's evacuation, and DVMs tended to their nursing needs. LSU veterinarian Dr. Dan Burba took a trailer into New Orleans during the early days of Katrina's recovery and navigated through flooded streets to pull four mules and two horses trapped in the city. As remaining daylight flickered, gun play echoed within earshot. By telephone, LSU's Ky Mortensen guided him through nearly impassable streets to return safely to Baton Rouge.

The stories seem endless, yet so does the valor. From my vantage, veterinarians here have lived up to their oath and raised the bar for American society.

Take a 12- to 15-foot measurement outside of your home or practice. Imagine a line, a brown line, for every home or business on your street and consider that anything below it was destroyed by floodwaters. What would you lose? About 80 percent of New Orleans was awash.

Along the Gulf Coast, the wind and rising water engulfed veterinary practices, tragically laying waste to human and animal life in some cases. Whether a rescue story is recounted in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas or Alabama, there is a certain calling in the strength of the human spirit in the storm's recovery that should reaffirm and inspire you. It did me.