It has been quite a year so far in the realm of natural disasters that are affecting our globe. As with anything, there are many theories as to why there are monster killer tornadoes and plantet changing earthquakes and tsunamis. My personal theory is that we have finally, completely pissed off Mother Nature and she is punishing her kids. But whatever the reason, humans undergo great suffering during and after these major disasters. Often overlooked during these tragic times are the animals that are affected by these situations. This includes pets that become injured and sometimes separated from their owners as well as farm animals which could ultimately affect the local food supply secondary to major disease outbreaks or loss . I can only imagine what a terrifying experience people undergo during these times who not only have to worry about their own survival but also their pets who may be lost or injured or even dead. I would be a total basket case.
Disaster preparedness has been a long time interest of mine. I'm not sure what really sparked it for me. Maybe it was the rescue of my family and pets from our house to escape rising flood waters years ago or my long time illogical fear of tornadoes. Whatever the reason, I have become involved in organized disaster preparedness on the animal front. This area has really exploded in the last several years especially following in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, there is an army of people that have a passion for this and have become involved by raising awareness, organizing relief efforts and sending aid to affected areas. There are many levels at which people can become involved. Being a veterinarian or veterinary technician is not a requirement as there are many jobs that need filled during disasters. In addition to medical care, rescue of animals and housing of displaced animals is a necessity that can filled by people with many different skills sets. This army of people falls into many different groups which include federal, private and state organized teams.
The federally organized National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) provides assistance in identifying the need for veterinary services following major disasters, emergencies, public health or other events requiring Federal support. VMAT is the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (http://www.avma.org/). These teams serve as first responders to ensure high-quality care of animals during disasters and emergencies. VMAT is funded through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (http://www.avmf.org/) which is the charitable organization of the AVMA. Other large team efforts include The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® Field Investigations and Response team (ASPCA) and The American Humane Association Red Star Animal Emergency Services (American Humane Association). Animal disaster preparedness efforts at the state and local level vary widely between states. For example, Ohio has 8 organized animal response teams that would be called on during a county or state emergency.
As a member of the disaster preparedness committee for my state veterinary association, I'm learning that this is a complex, multi-faceted area that takes tremendous planning to ensure efforts are carried out effectively in the face of disaster. You don't have to join a team to help in disaster relief efforts. Planning ahead and taking some simple steps to prepare your family can help you and your pets remain safe in the event of a disaster. There are many resources available online that help animal owners develop a plan that includes necessary supplies, shelter, and evacuation. Disasters usually strike quickly and often unannounced so preparation is a key part of keeping the family and pets safe during these times. Donations to groups such as AVMF that fund disaster relief efforts, is also another way you can help. If you are truly passionate, then joining a response team will give you the hands on satisfaction of helping both animals and the people to whom they belong.
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