Veterinarians, relief agencies move in to help animals following Haiti earthquake

Veterinarians, relief agencies move in to help animals following Haiti earthquake

Jan 28, 2010
Port-au-Prince, Haiti -- It’s been more than two weeks since a 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti, and animal relief aid is only now starting to cross into the country's borders.

And the biggest threat to both is disease brought on by a battered infrastructure, contaminated water and dwindling food supplies.

Photo courtesy of the WSPA
WSPA disaster management veterinary officer Dr. Juan Carlos Murillo, a member of the ARCH team in Haiti, checks a dog for injuries and disease during ARCH's initial inspection in Port au Prince.
Animal welfare groups joined forces immediately after the quake, forming the Animal Relief Coalition of Haiti (ARCH) to begin collecting supplies and funding for the country, which is about the size of Maryland with more than 9 million human and 5 million animal residents.

At the close of last week, animal-health volunteers waited for clearance from the Haitian government to enter the country.

However, after much discussion with ARCH officials, Haitian leaders reportedly recognized the threat to pets, livestock and public health.

“We had not considered including animals in the plan we’re working up now, but after meeting the ARCH team, we can see that it would be good to do so,” Haitian Minister of Environment Jean Marie Claude Germain says in a prepared statement. “In addition to preventing deforestation and protecting our water reserves, we are also discussing the need for a vaccination program in order to prevent the spread of diseases among animal populations."

Zoonotic disease is a major concern for public health officials, considering the close contact people can have with Haiti’s large population of stray dogs. Only about 20 percent of the country’s 500,000 dogs were vaccinated against rabies last year, ARCH officials say. Livestock often are not vaccinated against common illnesses.

ARCH officials planned to deliver the group’s first shipment of medications and equipment to treat animals sometime next week, and much of the ARCH team gathered in Haiti’s neighboring country, Dominican Republic, to organize the delivery of those goods.

There still has been no official call for veterinary volunteers, but many groups have sent aid anyway.

Veterinarians employed by the U.S. government have been called into duty, with the nearly 50 soldiers in the 43rd Medical Detachment (veterinary services) being deployed to Haiti, primarily to inspect food and water entering the country and to care for search-and-rescue dogs used in the human aid effort. Food testing will focus on biological contaminants and insect or rodent infestation, according to the unit.

Humane Society International (HIS) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are working with the Christian Veterinary Mission. The groups were due to meet this week with Haiti’s head veterinarian and ministry of agriculture to map out an aid plan.

Jordan Crump, an HSUS spokesperson, says a team of five volunteers were in Haiti last week, and a second wave of seven volunteers will arrive in Haiti Jan. 29. HSUS officials cited the use of donkeys and horses for human evacuation as a major area of interest, saying they will monitor those animals for signs of stress.

Christian Veterinary Mission has maintained a presence in Haiti for more than 30 years, and report they are working with animal-relief volunteers who are new to Haiti. They will recruit veterinary volunteers as needed, the organization reports. The biggest animal health challenge in Haiti right now is stray control. Vaccination campaigns spearheaded by Christian Veterinary Mission in recent years have made headway but there’s a lot more work to be done, the group reports.

Another challenge related to strays is keeping them confined, protected and fed, says the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of ARCH’s founding members.

“There’s nothing more difficult to watch than a semi-feral animal eating a human remain,” says Dick Green of IFAW. “So people react in the way you would expect them to react — they kill them … and the dog is just trying to survive.”

The group also is lending aid to farmers, who livestock’s productivity — especially for cow and goats whose stress levels might decrease milk production — may suffer.

In the private sector, many companies are donating money, services and supplies to Haiti. Pfizer Animal Health is said to be making a cash donation with employee matching. Nestle Purina Pet Care Company is matching donations from its employees to the American Red Cross. Numerous food and agriculture groups, like the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Farmers of America, are stepping up with cash and product donations.

ARCH was created by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). It is now flanked by numerous veterinary and animal welfare groups including the American Humane Association, Best Friends Animal Society, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, In Defense of Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, Antigua and Barbuda Humane Society, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, United Animal Nations, Kinship Circle, One Voice, Swiss Animal Protection and Foundation.

Monetary donations for animal relief efforts in Haiti are being collected through the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, the Christian Veterinary Mission and Heifer International.