After the chaotic floods hit Baton Rouge last month, hundreds of pets and their owners were separated. The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine opened its doors to some of those displaced animals and provided care until most could be reunited with their human companions. Some of the Vet School staff lost homes and other property, but those who were able to still traveled to help those animals in need.

Dr. Rebecca McConnico, an associate professor of veterinary medicine at the Vet School, spoke with DIG about how the school fared during the flood, how they helped and what steps they take in situations such as this.

DIG: How did the flooding impact the Vet School?

Rebecca McConnico: We had several staff, faculty and students that had a lot of loss themselves. Of course them not being able to be there impacted our ability to give care to our patients, but we have enough team work to still provide all that we can. Our students will be making up classes over a part of fall break.

The hospital stayed open throughout the time in what we call a “ride-out team,” which is a group of staff who is designated to stay here during critical times. We developed that plan after Hurricane Katrina.

We played a pretty big role on that Sunday, August 14. We worked hand-in-hand with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team and started our command center here at the Vet School. Even the some incoming class of veterinary students were here learning the ropes of how to manage a situation like this. We had large and small animal rescue teams working with four to five parishes on saving animals. We brought in a lot of cats, dogs and other domesticated animals as well as cows and quite a lot of horses who sustained injuries from standing in the water.

We would stabilize those patients, then contact the owners and discuss chances of survival and let them be a part of that decision. We also had another center at the [John M.] Parker Agricultural Coliseum for animals who weren’t as seriously injured or were waiting for their owners. All of this was through the plan we have for rescue and response.

DIG: Was there any difficulty in locating any of the owners of the animals? What happened to the ones whose owners couldn’t be located?

RM: We didn’t have too many problems finding owners, but I know some of the volunteers at Lamar Dixon [Expo Center] had trouble finding owners for smaller animals who weren’t microchipped. I don’t know the exact number. Some owners relinquished their ownership because they simply couldn’t handle dealing with the flooding and having a pet. A few welfare groups came together to care for those animals. Most of the large animals were reunited with their owners or fostered to someone else. There was a little crowding but we had a lot of success.

DIG: Would you say that things are back to normal at the Vet School now?

RM: I’d say so. I think out in the community, some people are still having problems with having to feed their animals and such but the goal of them finding a way to do that may be something that gives them stability. I think the thing about this event is that it came without warning and the people that are used to helping others were the ones impacted.
We’re nationally known for our disaster training program, working with multiple organizations throughout the state and the country, so we were certainly prepared. Some of us have gone through this before with [Hurricanes] Katrina and Rita and other disasters, so it’s all about being as ready as possible.

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DIG: How does it feel to know that you helped all of those animals and owners in such a time of need?

RM: For me, I think that’s why we do it. As veterinarians, it’s what we’re supposed to do. It feels really wonderful to help people connect and give them hope that things are going to be okay. If things aren’t going to be okay, we give them a gentle way to handle that loss.

DIG: Is the Vet School taking any steps to prepare for this in the future? Are there any new policies that will be put in place?

RM: I think our process would be the same. One thing might be to revisit the procedures for the newer staff and students know what our plans are during emergencies. In any disaster scenario, having better communication is wanted but part of that issue was due to the AT&T cell service going out. If that were to happen again, maybe we’d invest in long range walkie-talkies. Other than that, I think we’ve got a pretty solid system.

DIG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RM: For anyone who works with animals or has animals, I think they need to include them in their disaster plan. We teach that just as important as it is to get pets vaccinated, it’s important to have them involved in disaster planning. Know where you’re going to go. Have food and medications and identifications ready for your animals as well whether they’re large or small. There are lots of resources for residents to help put all of that together as well.

Photos courtesy of LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.

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