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September 29, 2010

University of Veracruz Steps Up After Floods

Vet school creates temporary sheltering operation

Humane Society International

  • The temporary shelter. Kelly Coladarci/HSI

  • Mobile x-ray unit on loan from the university. Kelly Coladarci/HSI

  • Getting the medical attention he needs. Monica Pineda

  • A quieter place for the cats and kittens. Kelly Coladarci/HSI

  • In great need of care. Monica Pineda

  • A well-organized distribution of supplies and food. Kelly Coladarci/HSI

by Kelly Coladarci

One of the many challenges we face in international disaster response is limited access to resources. In addition to medications and safety equipment, something that is both vital and often difficult to locate in more remote areas is a shelter where animals can be kept while people evacuate.

Due to a lack of preparedness training, along with a shortage of manpower and facilities, temporary havens often don’t exist beyond local groups’ taking in what pets they can, or veterinary hospitals’ filling their cages. Animal shelters typically take in a high volume of animals because they are the only suitable places available. Unfortunately, in doing this, they run the risks of an increased rate of disease transmission, a shortage of food and clean water, and overcrowding, all of which create further problems.

Vet school steps up

During our team’s recent deployment to Veracruz, Mexico, we were pleasantly surprised to see the University of Veracruz step forward and take the initiative to set up a well-organized, locally-run operation to service pets impacted by the flooding. Overseen by faculty of the university’s vet school and staffed by veterinary students, it is providing an invaluable hands-on learning experience in field medicine under the most challenging of conditions.

When we visited, we saw a check-in area at the entrance of the building for identifying and tagging pets to help ensure a smooth reunion with their owners. Beyond this, areas were marked off for cats, birds, and animals needing medical treatment, as well as an isolation area and an area for supply distribution. We were impressed by the protocols they had implemented. The location they had chosen, an agricultural center normally used for animals, was optimal for such an effort, as there was enough space for all the pets to be properly separated from each other.

Looking forward

In addition to providing effective care at present, the university has also begun to create an exit strategy. An adoption plan is in place, should people be unable or unwilling to reclaim their animals. The facility will remain operational for up to three months. At the height of hurricane season, local residents must find comfort in knowing that these accommodations are available. After the latest storm, for example, hundreds of people brought their pets to the shelter from Tlacotalpan, and all but a few were reunited as families returned home to rebuild. Many more remain, as the rains continue, until their owners can once again care for them. And if other storms arrive this fall, the shelter will be there.

University staff and students are pleased to be playing such a vital role in this community effort. Meanwhile, a local animal advocacy group has created a team of volunteers to carry out duties such as registration and daily feeding and dog walking. Despite being exhausted, everyone we met was very happy to have this opportunity to come together and provide this invaluable service to their neighbors and their animals.

HSI is pleased to have seen this group not only take on such a challenging endeavor but to do so in such a thorough and professional manner. We will continue to provide both logistical support and materials such as medications, food and sheltering supplies to help sustain these efforts.

Kelly Coladarci is a Companion Animals and Engagement Program Manager for Humane Society International.