The Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine is a partner in developing efficient emergency response for animals both large and small.
The Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) was started in 2004 because of the thought that the big one might be imminent. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area a year later, LSART was well positioned to help and is now a go-to source nationally for animal response.
LSART consists of groups of volunteers throughout the state that total more than 500, and are administered through the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association with a close partnership with the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine.
LSART is a nonprofit that provides training and emergency response and evacuation of animals large and small in the event of a disaster. The teams have many functions, including partnering with the community to know where pet friendly hotels are before a disaster; training groups to be able to handle large and small animals during a disaster; and training current and future veterinarians in ICS, NIMS, biosecurity and other areas.
“It’s really building community resilience one parish or one county at a time,” said Rebecca McConnico, a professor with the Equine Health Studies Program at LSU.
And that entails a lot of pre-disaster partnering with groups and agencies, like the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. “They have equipment that is helpful for us and vice versa,” McConnico said. “We can supply the man or woman power, and they will have things like a corral to lend.”
LSART trains with local animal control agencies because they are the ones usually in charge of animals in a parish, and works with groups like the Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “We work a lot on sheltering and public safety associated with sheltering; how to secure situations and make sure you’re not becoming part of the disaster,” she said.
During Katrina so many people tried to help they ended up becoming casualties themselves because of a lack of training. That’s why volunteers get hands-on training.
“You can’t just be a volunteer one day, go in and get your Facebook picture and leave. You have to be committed,” McConnico said. “It takes prep time to learn the things that are required because safety is an important part of it. One of the biggest problems [during Katrina] was so many people wanted to help and it was very welcome up to a point but then became part of the disaster itself.”
At LSU, first and second-year veterinary students get an elective course on emergency response, learning what’s required of a responder, taking FEMA online courses and getting hands-on physical training.
The program puts students with local first responders like firefighters to get hands-on training. “A lot of these kids are from the city and have never handled large animals,” McConnico said.
LSU veterinary students came to the rescue of animals impacted by the Gulf oil spill in 2010. The students had just finished a “boot camp” and were well equipped to help rehab the animals. LSU students are now highly thought of when it comes to animal rehabs.