Teams rescue animals caught in multi-state floods

Long-term health effects uncertain; oil spill adds to woes in Kansas
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Aug 01, 2007


After the deluge: Flooded street in Miami, Okla., on July 3, before the floodwaters had even crested.
NATIONAL REPORT — State animal-response teams and rescue organizations deployed to assist the cluster of Central states hit hardest by recent floods that left the long-term health of impacted animals in question.

Flooding joins severe winter storms and tornadoes to complete a trifecta of severe weather to hit the nation's midsection this year.

The most recent bout with Mother Nature spread across Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas, leaving officials struggling to keep people, animals and rescue efforts above water.

More than an entire month of incessant rainfall, beginning in late May and continuing through early July, left about 500 animals displaced in the hardest-hit areas, and at least 14 people dead across the four states, with thousands more currently without homes or facing extensive property damages.

Floodwaters poured through city streets, sewers, homes and businesses, contaminating food and drinking water. The impact to animal health remains largely unknown, yet a primary concern to veterinarians.

"We pulled a lot of animals out of contaminated water," which smelled like petroleum throughout areas of Oklahoma, says Tracy Reis, Animal Emergency Services program manager with the American Humane Association (AHA), called in to assist rescue and shelter efforts. "We may see an increase in digestive and pulmonary disorders. We've had quite a bought with diarrhea, and we don't know the long-term health effects."

Despite enduring multiple weather disasters this year, Kansas officials fear the recent floods may have caused the most widespread and costly devastation.

"This will prove to be a very major disaster because it covers such a wide area. Overall, the flooding has been more disastrous than other storms we've had, just because of the wide involvement," says George Teagarden, livestock commissioner for the Kansas Animal Health Department.

Helping the homeless

Rainfall doubling normal amounts separated many animals from their homes and owners, and left several animal shelters flooded. Facilities that escaped water damage in the hardest-hit areas — Miami and Bartlesville, Okla., and Coffeyville, Kan. — were overwhelmed.

The Miami Animal Welfare Society is housing 100 dogs and cats from the flood, in addition to the 30 animals already boarded there before the storms, says Scott Mason, DVM and program coordinator for the medical reserve core of the Oklahoma State Animal Response Team (SART), sponsored by the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association.

After an unprecedented 20 straight days of rain, Oklahoma floods eventually forced the Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Bartlesville to set up a temporary shelter at the Dewey Agriculture Center in Dewey, Okla. "But they have not had any evacuation problems or veterinary issues," Mason says.

While only three companion animals — two dogs and one cat — were reported dead in the area, the state's population of agricultural animals was harder hit. Thirty cattle reportedly drowned from one flooded farm just before July 4, Reis says.

Some farm animals caught in high waters through Texas and Missouri were relocated to drier areas, but few if any deaths or overloaded shelters were reported.

"We have helped move a few animals. There were several horses and some miniature donkeys in the Houston area that were in the way of floodwaters. But there haven't been massive numbers," says Carla Everett, Texas Animal Health Commission public information director.

Mixing oil and water

Flooding was not the only concern for residents of Coffeyville, Kan., home of the Coffeyville Resources refinery. A pumping malfunction caused 42,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into south-central Kansas' Verdigris River, coating property, rescue workers and pets.

With more than an estimated 400 animals impacted by water and oil floods, the Coffeyville Animal Control Department has been working around the clock, assisting all types of species, including ferrets, snakes, mice, dogs, cats and rabbits, says Director Devin Volmer.