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MSU veterinary specialists gain disaster response skills
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Humans are the obvious victims of natural and manmade disasters, but animals are the primary concern for veterinary specialists.
Veterinarians are needed to respond to floods, hurricanes, fires, transportation accidents and other disasters that often involve animals. Veterinarians also are trained in issues such as food safety, diseases that can pass between humans and animals, and environmental health concerns such as waste and carcass disposal that also affect public health.
"As animal care specialists, the faculty, staff and students at the College of Veterinary Medicine are looked up to by the community for animal care and welfare, especially in terms of disaster response," said Dr. Carla Huston, a Mississippi State University CVM assistant professor of pathobiology/population medicine. "Any time you have a disaster situation, if it affects animals, it likely will affect humans as well. It's important for veterinarians to know how to take care of animals in these situations."
During a three-day Mississippi Animal Response Team Training course, Huston and five other MSU representatives learned about various disasters that can affect large animals, and how to deal with those situations. Techniques for rescuing cattle and horses from water, upturned trailers, ditches and fiery barns were a few of the topics covered in the training session.
"Animal care specialists were called in to help during the North Carolina hurricanes a few years back and during last year's California wildfires," Huston said. "Veterinarians frequently face disaster situations in their careers, and it is vital for them to know how to respond to emergencies involving large animals."
In her own veterinary career, Huston said she has dealt with a number of emergency situations involving large animals.
"I've been involved with on-farm accidents where we had to hoist a steer out of a culvert using a tractor, ropes and pulleys. I've also had to help pull horses out of ditches after they were struck by automobiles," Huston said.
Huston, who is involved with disaster response groups on the national and state levels, has learned from her own experiences the value of training veterinarians for the unexpected. She said she is pleased with the enthusiasm of CVM faculty, staff and students to take on this often-overlooked role.
Terri Snead, veterinary technician in MSU's production medicine department, said living and working in a rural state makes large animal emergency rescue skills particularly useful.
"It was a good exercise in understanding the benefits of a team. For instance, on a rescue scene, I can't imagine myself hooking up pulleys, working the jaws of life, tying complicated rescue knots or working the front-end loader," Snead explained.
"I can imagine monitoring the condition of the horse, giving an educated opinion on how the horse might react to a loud machine or telling the rescue personnel, 'Hey, as soon as this horse feels like he may be free, he's going to try to get up, so be ready to move out of the way,'" she added.
In addition to MSU veterinary specialists, participants in the July training session in Canton also included animal control personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, sheriffs and other rescue personnel. Snead said she was pleased with the variety of professions represented.
"It was awesome to see firemen and other rescue personnel there. They had a great knowledge of rescue techniques, but really wanted to become proficient in handling animals, especially horses, in stressful situations," she said.
One piece of useful information for Snead came during what she called the "mud training." Because cattle and horses tend to congregate in areas that become very muddy, such as around a water trough or hay feeder, it is not unusual to hear stories of animals getting stuck there.
"When you pull something out of the mud, the pull of the suction of the mud is greater than the force that you are using to pull. However, using an air compressor with the hose hooked up to PVC pipe that you put down in the mud next to the victim, you can break that suction and allow the animal to be more easily pulled out," Snead explained.
Janie Kelley is a second-year CVM student who has a particular interest in large animal disaster response. Kelley is in the process of forming a student disaster response organization that will focus on issues relevant to this area of veterinary medicine.
"Right now my plan involves distributing lists of emergency contact phone numbers to fire departments and animal rescue centers. When an emergency arises involving an animal, they will have those numbers on hand so they can call someone who can help with the animal," Kelley said. "These people already may be able to take care of the humans, but what do they do with the animals?"
Kelley, who is considering the dual-degree program offered to MSU veterinary students, is interested in pursuing a future career dealing with bioterrorism/biosecurity and foreign animal disease. She plans to attend a second training session that will also deal with small animal rescue.
The training was sponsored by the Mississippi Board of Animal Health. MSU was well-represented there, accounting for five of the 30 participants. Attending were Snead; Kelley; Huston; Huston's husband John, a Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researcher; CVM graduate student and lab animal veterinarian Dr. Dawn Tucker; and veterinary student Jim Whitehead.