Posted on January 26, 2018
Thanks to all of you who requested information about my recent deployment to St. Croix where I worked at an emergency shelter established by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Over the course of three months at this shelter, the ASPCA cared for nearly 600 animals displaced by Hurricane Maria.
This was a truly remarkable experience for me on so many levels. As anticipated, I encountered some physical and emotional challenges, none of which detracted from my experience to any significant degree. I had the opportunity to practice medicine in a way that I’d not done in years. And, I absolutely loved it. Preventive medicine was the name of the game in terms of vaccinations, heartworm testing, and deworming. There were also basic medical issues to contend with such as ringworm, malnutrition, diarrhea, ear infections, and injuries sustained during the hurricane. I was involved in caring for the horses housed at the shelter, a true treat for this horse-crazy woman.
Most enjoyable was the opportunity to practice pediatrics, something I’ve not done for decades. Pediatrics translates into spending a lot of time playing with puppies and kittens. Early on in my deployment a litter of nine puppies arrived at the shelter at death’s door, suffering from a massive load of intestinal parasites, malnutrition, and hypothermia. Watching these babies recover in response to the treatment we provided was richly rewarding for all of us. Within a few days, they transformed into active content puppies with voracious appetites. I got a big smile on my face every morning upon entering the shelter and hearing these babies telling us in no uncertain terms that it was time for breakfast to be served.
I arrived on the island well after the Hurricane Maria hit St. Croix. Prior to my arrival, ASPCA staff members and volunteers spent countless hours conducting search-and-rescue to save injured and homeless animals on the island. Some dogs and cats were brought to the shelter because their owners no longer had suitable housing and were unable to continue caring for their pets. By the time I deployed, hundreds of animals- either homeless before the hurricane or surrendered by their owners afterward- were relocated via airplane to shelters and rescue groups in the States where they were made available for adoption.
I must tell you that the ASPCA simply rocked in terms of how each and every sheltered animal was cared for. Decisions about how to proceed with an animal with severe illness, injury, or behavioral issues were made only after considerable thought and discussion. Animals requiring medical or surgical care that we could not provide within the emergency shelter were transported to a veterinary hospital on the island with expenses covered by the ASPCA.
Every animal received daily enrichment of some sort. The kitty cages were filled with toys (plus they had one another to play with). The horses received large goodie balls that they could push around to release yummy treats. The dogs were walked multiple times daily and playgroups were created. Volunteers from all over the United States were on site providing daily care for the animals, including walking dogs and cleaning cages. They all worked amazingly hard all day given the intense heat and humidity. Huge plastic containers were filled with toys for enrichment. These were stuffed with peanut butter or pet food before being handed out daily to each and every dog. Two animal behaviorists were on site assessing all of the dogs to determine how best to place them. The entire staff benefited from their advice dealing with issues such as leash biting, fearfulness, and dog-on-dog aggression.
I observed firsthand the ASPCA philosophy of providing the resources necessary to ensure that each and every animal received physical support and emotional comfort. In all honesty, I was blown away by all of this. I did not expect this over-the-top level of care and concern. I’m pleased to say that the ASPCA has maintained an ongoing presence on St. Croix to continue to improve the lives of animals living there. The ASPCA is also working with local agencies on the island to support their efforts as they get back on their feet and work to enhance their disaster preparedness and response capabilities moving forward.
I left the island on December 25th, just two days before all of the homeless animals at the shelter were transported to various shelters all across the United States. There, many of the dogs will require some behavior rehabilitation and/or treatment for heartworm disease prior to being rehomed. Take a look at the video of some of puppies I described being loaded onto the plane. I never met the pilot, but learned that, on his first transport (before I arrived on the island) he adopted two kittens. Prior to this final transport, additional animals in the care of the ASPCA were reunited with their families on the island or adopted by local residents.
To learn more about the ASPCA’s Hurricane Maria response efforts and to see some awesome photos, I invite you to access these links:
ASPCA Assists Nearly 22,000 Animals Impacted by Hurricane Maria in St. Croix
Exclusive photos: Inside Our Emergency Shelter for Animal Victims of Hurricane Maria
I have nothing but high regard for the ASPCA disaster relief ethics I saw in action. And, most of all, I feel immensely fortunate to practice a profession that provides me with such amazing opportunities. The days I spent working at the St. Croix shelter were long, arduous, and hot. I’ve never sweated so much in my life! Would I deploy with the ASPCA again? In a heartbeat!
If you have interest in becoming an ASPCA disaster response volunteer, let me know and I can point you in the right direction.
Warm best wishes,
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.