HURRICANE KATRINA 2005
In August 2005, a Category 5 hurricane named Katrina, slammed into the Gulf Coast leaving over 250,000 animals abandoned. The efforts to help these animals was called the largest animal rescue operation in history. Kingsbrook Animal Hospital sent three staff members to participate in that rescue operation. Below are the recollections of Ann Carlson, Nora McKay-Clark and Dr. Davis’s time in Louisiana.
ANN CARLSON’S STORY ABOUT VOLUNTEERING AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA:
In October of 2005, six weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Nora and I were fortunate to travel to Louisiana State University to help in the school’s temporary shelter. Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, along with several kind clients, helped fund our unplanned trip. The trip started out with Nora and me driving along with a lot of singing. We were on our way to what we were told would be “band-aid” sort of work in the kennel area. Once we got there, we were surprised to find out that we would actually be the two day-shift techs working in the hospital area with all the sick and injured animals that were there (and still being brought in!). We were brought to our new home, which consisted of 25 mattresses laid out on a classroom floor, and I found an empty mattress between Nora and a 20-something old male volunteer (!!). After claiming a mattress, we were immediately taken to the hospital area and got to work.
The hospital ward consisted of about 30 cages of dogs and cats with various injuries and ailments including broken bones, bite wounds, eye trauma, sepsis, and refeeding syndrome. Refeeding syndrome is a condition in which patients have gone so long without food that they actually get sick when food is re-introduced to them. Nora and I were also responsible for helping with new animals being admitted. These tasks included decontamination, placing IV’s, bandaging, and medicating. I think one of the most surprising things about our trip was the fact that it was 6 weeks after the hurricane, and animals were still being taken out of homes alive – albeit thin – treated for refeeding syndrome, and they still fared well! Although the week was exhausting and even a bit emotionally traumatic, it was the most rewarding, full experience I have had as a veterinary assistant.
During Nora and my stay at LSU, we came across many wonderful animals, but one in particular pulled on my heart strings. The third day of our shift in the hospital ward, they called back for a tech to do decontamination on an animal just brought into LSU for caustic burns to his feet. When I went to the decontamination area, I found a very handsome but depressed Boxer with bandaged feet. Upon removing the bandages for his decontamination, I found caustic burns down to his metatarsal bones – no wonder he was so depressed! I can’t imagine the pain he was feeling, but he willingly let me bathe him in Dawn and gently lavage his feet. During the week I took on the responsibility of rebandaging and treating his infection and he continued to be a sweet boy despite his painful injuries.
At the end of Nora and my time at LSU the Katrina section of the hospital ward was closing, and all the animals had to be placed back in their homes, or more likely into foster care or sent to a shelter. We were relieved that all of the animals had been placed in staff/volunteer foster care, or breed-specific rescues except for Bonz the Boxer. He was going to go back to the shelter that he had been originally sent to. I knew the area shelters were extremely overburdened, and were being forced to make difficult decisions regarding the animals coming to them. I also knew if he was saved, they did not have the manpower to take care of his medical needs. Nora made the call to Kingsbrook for me, pleading Bonz’ case to the Drs. Could we bring a special dog back for treatment? Thankfully, we got the answer we were hoping for – Kingsbrook would treat Bonz until we could get him back into shape to be placed into a loving home.
Bonz’s burns had resulted in a bone infection in which costly IV antibiotics had to be administered. His feet were cleaned, medicated, and rebandaged twice a day. He also needed to be neutered. For four months, I fostered Bonz in my home and he came to work with me to be treated during the day. With help from the Drs and staff and donations from KAH, clients, and the community, we were able to treat Bonz! I am forever grateful for the response we got from everyone involved. Unfortunately we never were able to find Bonz’s original owners. After three months of treatment, we found Bonz’ a wonderful home where he spent the rest of his life. It was a bittersweet time for me, but I am thrilled to have gotten the time spent caring and loving him.
NORA’S STORY ABOUT VOLUNTEERING AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA:
Before Hurricane Katrina, I am ashamed to say I had never worked in a volunteer capacity. In the weeks after the storm, Louisiana State University made a nationwide plea to the veterinary community for help. They were requesting that volunteers come to LSU to aid in their efforts to triage animals still coming in from the field. They also requested help to care for the thousands of animals that were being housed on campus in a temporary shelter until they could be transported to rescues equipped to take them or reunited with their owners. I’m not sure what spoke to me about this opportunity but I immediately thought of my friend and co-worker, Ann, to share it with me.
We drove 21 hours to LSU, five and a half weeks after Hurricane Katrina, with the expectation that we would be helping with the last 3-400 animals housed in the Ag Center. When we arrived, we learned that we were being assigned to the ICU in the veterinary teaching college to triage and nurse critically ill animals. My best story from the week came in the first few hours we were there. After being shown our accommodations (25 mattresses on the floor in a classroom), we were taken to a 30 kennel ward in the school where dogs and cats were being housed and treated for a variety of conditions. A small dehydrated kitten weighing less than one pound came in and they had an “experienced technician” from the school come and place the IV, rightly assuming it would be difficult. They then asked us to get fluids started on this kitten. Upon attaching a fluid line, the tape and catheter slid right out and off of the kitten’s limb. We kind of panicked. Ann and I scurried to find what we needed to replace the catheter and tape it in. In the midst of controlled chaos, no one was aware of the bump in the kitten’s treatment, and Ann and I felt like we had passed our first test!
After a week of hard work, mingling with a wonderful group of veterinary professionals from all over North America and Canada, and eating good Louisiana home cooking provided by a catering company that fed us well every night, my faith in humanity was reaffirmed. I witnessed acts of kindness and goodwill that surpassed any of my previous life experiences. The lengths to which people would go to help these animals and people in need at such a grave time in their lives impressed me. It was an amazing experience that I am eternally grateful for. I was fortunate to share it with a friend who has a very big heart and got all of the same wonderful things from it that I did.
In an effort to help the movement of animals out of the facility we took home three special needs animals that required some special care. A boxer with chemical burns that caused a bad infection of the bones in his back toes that required months on bandaging, and very expensive IV antibiotics. An obese senior cat who needed help with hygiene and weight loss, and the lovely little dehydrated kitten who was our first patient upon our arrival. All three fared well in our care and found their way to loving forever homes. They were a great end to our story!
Did you know that earlier this year, Nora spent a morning with future vet tech students at Wilson college, sharing her experiences during Hurricane Katrina. Not just helping those animals, but also teaching and inspiring future techs.