Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina | LSU School of Veterinary Medicine


Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina


Shelter Medicine

Spay Days

Animal Rescues

Disaster Preparedness and Response

Honoring Volunteers


Shelter Medicine

In 2006, the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine received an $800,000 grant from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to shelter medicine studentsestablish a shelter medicine program. The curriculum was established in 2006, and Dr. Wendy Wolfson (LSU SVM 1986) was hired as the instructor for the rotation. Students enrolled in the rotation in 2007, and more than 490 students have participated in it since then. 


Students gain surgical and medical experience by serving the needs of spay/neuter clinics, animal control facilities and animal shelters, the sheltering operation at the Dixon Correctional Institute and other correctional institutions in southern Louisiana. The curriculum also includes training in animal wellness, pet population dynamics, disaster medicine and animal behavior issues. The program also works with animal control facilities to improve animal health, spay/neuter adoptable animals, increase adoption rates and ensure humane euthanasia. This program also gives educational seminars for shelter volunteers, shelter workers, and school children on various issues related to the care of shelter animals and pets.


In 2007, the HSUS made a generous donation to Dixon Correction Institute for the establishment of an animal shelter. This medium-shelter medicinesecurity prison is located about 30 miles north of Baton Rouge and is able to house and care for up to 500 pets with handpicked, trained inmates and the supervision of the LSU SVM. In addition to providing daily care for the animals, the inmates also receive instruction from LSU SVM faculty, staff and students, and some inmates are pursuing online training so that they can continue to work with animals after their incarceration ends.


The LSU SVM Shelter Medicine Program also services feral cat populations on prison grounds in Louisiana. Feral cat issues are addressed as a major problem on the grounds of the three state prisons: Dixon Correctional Institute, Angola State Penitentiary and Avoyelles State Penitentiary. A grant from the ASPCA provides funds to support this program so that the shelter medicine program can continue to work with feral cat populations at these prisons. At Dixon Correctional, which has an animal control facility on the prison grounds, the inmates who work with the animals also attend seminars conducted by LSU SVM veterinary students. Seminar topics include parasitology, dermatology, proper disinfection protocols, and recognizing common diseases found in animal shelters.


“We spay and neuter feral cats and provide rabies vaccinations and flea control for feral cats on prison grounds,” said Dr. Wendy Wolfson (LSU SVM 1986), director of the Shelter Medicine Program. “The faculty, staff and students in the program also provide seminars for the prisoners to help them better understand veterinary medicine. Once they have completed the seminar series, they receive an LSU Shelter Medicine Certification. Three prisoners have continued their education in veterinary medicine to become certified veterinary technicians, and they paid for their certification with their own funds.”


In 2008, the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery donated funds to provide a mobile emergency response unit designed mobile unitto serve as a small animal medical facility in areas affected by disasters (for more information, see "Animal Rescues" below). When it is not activated immediately following a disaster, it is used as part of the shelter medicine curriculum to provide a sterile environment for spays and neuters for animals at south Louisiana animal shelters that do not have surgical facilities. 


Currently, 30 shelters and four prisons receive assistance from the LSU SVM shelter medicine program. “The goals for our program have remained the same,” said Wendy Wolfson, DVM (LSU SVM 1986), assistant professor of shelter medicine. “We work every day to introduce veterinary students to the needs of homeless animals and the problems of pet overpopulation with an overall goal of having students who work or donate time in shelters after graduation. We also work to improve the quality of life for shelter animals, decrease euthanasia rates in shelters and have communities which support and think positively about their shelters. With this generous grant, we can hire another permanent faculty member for our program and maintain the standard of excellence in Louisiana shelters and increase our participation in needed programs throughout the state. I thank The HSUS for this opportunity and their continued support of our program.”


Spay Daysspay day volunteers

With initial grants from the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust and Nestlé Purina, the LSU SVM developed the LSU Animal Sterilization
Assistance Program to perform spays/neuters once a month for low income families, animal shelters and humane organizations. Spay Days began on May 21, 2006, and have taken place monthly since then. Cats are brought to the LSU SVM via animal welfare groups such as Spay Baton Rouge and Cat Haven. The LSU SVM provides the facilities, supplies and faculty, staff and students. We work together with these groups to help curb the feral cat population in the Baton Rouge area.


Thousands of cats have been spayed or neutered as a result of this program, and we have strengthened our relationships with thespay day surgery animal welfare groups who bring the cats to the LSU SVM. Spay Day also gives our students valuable experience in shelter medicine, feral cat populations and surgical prep procedures.







Animal Rescues

When the animal shelter on LSU's campus opened at the LSU AgCenter's John M. Parker Coliseum on August 31, 2005, it took in horse rescueapproximately 500 animals within the first 48 hours. This shelter was for animals that were brought there by their owners who evacuated but couldn't keep their pets with them in the short term. The shelter established at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., was for rescued animals. In 2005, these rescues were done by volunteers who had little or no training for this endeavor. Since 2005, that has changed dramatically. The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the Louisiana State Animal Response Team now routinely offer training for disaster preparedness and response as it pertains to animals. 


In 2005, animals were not part of any formal rescue plans; that also has changed. People may now evacuate with their pets, and animal shelters are often set up adjacent or very near shelters for people. Katrina taught us not to leave pets behind and that people would not evacuate without their animals.


In 2008, the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery (AKC CAR) donated $120,000 to the LSU SVM for a mobile emergency response unit. This unit is used for emergency response and serves as an active component of an integrated system for responding to natural disasters. This unit also significantly enhances the ability of the LSU SVM to provide immediate care to injured, dehydrated, or otherwise debilitated animals. During the interim, when the mobile unit is not being used for disasters, it is used as part of the shelter medicine curriculum to provide spay and neuter services to animal shelters participating in the program that do not have surgical facilities. 


Ironically, in 2008 immediately following Hurricane Gustav, the mobile unit’s first emergency duty took place in the parking lot at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. After the SVM was forced to rely on generator power, which provided basic necessities but no air conditioning, the hospital’s surgery suite could not be used because of the build-up of condensation on the floors. Surgeries were performed in the air-conditioned surgery area in the mobile unit. The emergency response unit was then mobilized to provide veterinary care to areas affected by Hurricane Gustav. The Louisiana State Animal Response Team called to request the unit to help with injured and sick animals in Houma, La. The local veterinary clinics in that area were not operational, but local veterinarians rotated the hours of operation. LSU faculty covered rotations as well.


The LSU SVM and the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) also has a specialized disaster response mobile command large animal response unitcenter  for assistance with large animal rescues. It has satellite equipment, portable corrals and stalls, kenneling materials, utility trailer containing technical rescue equipment, and a large animal training dummy. While deployed, the team is able to perform assessments of animals and triage the injured. They are able to assess the environment for safe water and food supplies for stranded livestock and pets, evaluate food and nutrition needs, and develop ways to stabilize injured animals, get them to safety and shelter, and manage and staff small and large animal shelters and field hospitals. 


The LSART/LSU disaster response team dedicates themselves to being available to provide needed aid during a disaster, and continue to use these experiential opportunities as a teaching tool for present and future veterinarians and other animal care personnel. Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Isaac, the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, the Mississippi River flooding in Tennessee (May 2011), the flooding in south Louisiana in August 2016 and smaller scale rescues including vehicular accidents and flood rescues make up the list of responses since the group was formalized in 2005.   


Disaster Preparedness and Response

In addition to hosting and providing disaster preparedness and response training through the year, the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine has plans in place to have its Veterinary Teaching Hospital remain open during and after disasters. The SVM has remained open to help animals affected by disasters since 2005 and for every storm that has affected south Louisiana since then. We have a comprehensive emergency plan and have used it in 2008 (Hurricane Gustav), 2011 (rise of the Mississippi River) and in 2012 (Hurricane Isaac).


Collaborating with Other Organizations

In 2011, the LSU SVM received a $20,000 grant from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) in support of a State/Regional Disaster Management Training Program. The $20,000 from the AVMF is matched with in-kind gifts for a total value of $63,200. This program will provide emergency response training to aid animals before, during, and after disasters. The in-kind gifts are provided by the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute (FETI), the LSU Stephenson Disaster Management Institute (SDMI), the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association’s Walter J. Ernst Jr. Foundation. Letters of support for the training program were required and received from state animal emergency management officials, including the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.


The LSU SVM’s physical presence in a disaster prone region of the United States has enabled it to incorporate veterinary students, faculty veterinarians, and staff as first responders and to create experiential training for animal disaster response. Through solid partnerships with LSART, LSU FETI, the LSU SDMI, and humane organizations, the LSU SVM has developed a disaster response program that includes animal emergency response planning, evacuation, sheltering, emergency triage, and technical rescue expertise. Specific debriefing sessions from each of the disaster response scenarios have enabled the emergence of a functional all-hazards disaster response plan and specialized responder training.


This team works closely with local and regional resource providers to develop improved response activities to care for animals and the people who care for them during disasters, including Tropical Storm Allison (2001), Hurricanes Katrina & Rita (2005), Hurricanes Gustav and Ike (2008), the North Louisiana Flood (2009), and the Deep Water Horizon Gulf Oil Spill (2010). These experiential learning opportunities by way of organized community engagement have provided rigorous training opportunities for veterinary students and veterinarians at LSU and the surrounding area. These recent response activities in which veterinary students and veterinarians were able to provide the work force and work first hand with certified emergency responders to provide training activities demonstrate a successful model for veterinary training providing robust training experiences and subsequent course development to address identified gaps in veterinary disaster response training.


Disaster Response Training

In 2007, the LSU SVM partnered with the LSU Fire & Emergency Training Institute and the LSU Stephenson Disaster Management horse rescue trainingInstitute to provide a four-day technical large animal emergency rescue and large animal hazardous material training course. Sponsored by the Louisiana State Animal Response Team, the primary goal of the course was to prepare and train first responders, veterinarians, and other animal care personnel to work together in order to safely and effectively save animal lives without compromising human life during a disaster. Demonstrations and hands-on exercises included basic as well as specific large animal rescue procedures. Highlighted in the training were practical animal assistance techniques, mud rescue, water rescue, vertical lift using an A-frame and rope system, vertical lift using a helicopter, night rescue of an injured horse on rough terrain, as well as HazMat training.    


In 2009, the LSU SVM, the LSU Stephenson Disaster Management Institute and the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute partnered with the umbrella organization, the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART), to provide training for over 40 veterinarians, animal control officers, emergency managers, first responders, and other animal care providers. With the increase in the number of incidents involving large animals, the need for specialized training in the field of technical large animal emergency rescue (TLAER). Highlights of the training included a night rescue of a disabled horse and rider, water rescue of a horse from an 8-foot-deep pond, and a vertical lift of a horse weighing over 1,000 pounds. All of the exercises simulated scenarios of events that can occur quite frequently with large animals. One of the major goals of this type of training is to teach first responders and animal care personnel to work together to save the lives of animals, which in turn will ultimately save the lives of humans, since humans will often risk their lives to save an animal, especially if it is their pet.  


In 2011, the LSU SVM and LSART held training that included an introductory course for veterinary students and a more intensive boot trailer trainingcamp training for veterinary students, animal control officials, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other animal care personnel from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and other states. Thirty-five students enrolled in this boot camp and participated in a five-day hands-on training course held at the LSU SVM and the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute (FETI). The training team included instructors from the LSU SVM, the LSU Ag Center, FETI, LSART, the Texas State Animal Resource Team, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). This intense five-day boot camp was offered again in 2012, along with household pet evacuation training. Disaster response boot camps were also offered in 2013 and 2014.


In August 2015, the LSU SVM is partnering with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team, the American Humane Association, ASPCA, Code 3 Associates, Inc., International Fund for Animal Welfare, RedRover, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Alliance of State Animal & Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) for a week-long boot camp to train emergency responders for future disasters. 


Sharing Experiences and Expertise Nationally and Internationally


In 2011, Dr. Rebecca McConnico (LSU SVM 1987), professor, spoke at the 17th World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine (WCDEM) closed on June 3. Held in Beijing, China, the Congress hosted more than 1,600 participants from 57 countries. The 17th WCDEM was held in conjunction with the 14th Annual Meeting of the Chinese Society for Emergency Medicine. With the scale and frequency of disasters increasing, the 17th WCDEM was more relevant than ever. This year alone marks one of the worst in terms of disasters—the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor issues in Japan; floods in Australia; earthquakes in New Zealand; and floods and tornadoes in the United States. Research, experiences, and lessons learned from these recent events, and many others, were presented by delegates at the 17th WCDEM. Dr. McConnico’s presentations were added as part of a special veterinary component of this international meeting due in part to expanding global concerns about societal responsibilities for including animals in local, regional, and federal disaster planning. Dr. McConnico’s presentation topics were biosecurity considerations for equine emergency sheltering and experiential learning in disaster response for veterinary students and veterinarians.


LSU SVM faculty have also spoken locally, regionally and nationally about their experiences with animal rescues following disasters and have provided hands-on training for emergency responders, animal control personnel, volunteer veterinarians and veterinary technicians and veterinary school faculty and staff in Louisiana and around the U.S.


Informing the Public

Each year just prior to the start of hurricane season, the LSU SVM provides tips to the public about including pets and other animals in their disaster preparedness plans. LSU SVM faculty and staff have been interviewed by the media numerous times about the importance of including pets in plans and how best to evacuate with them.


Honoring Volunteers

In 2008, the LSU SVM dedicated Connections, a bronze statue to honor those who come to the aid of animals. “Although, the rescue, connectionsshelter, and reunification of animals in the aftermath of hurricanes reveals the depth of the human-animal bond in all people, the sculpture represents the basis of the veterinary profession and relation we all share with the animals in our lives,” said Dr. David Senior, associate dean for advancement and strategic initiatives. The dedication took place on November 6 at the LSU SVM.


Connections depicts a young girl offering water to a thirsty cat and dog representing both the relationship and responsibility we all share with domestic animals.  “This sculpture illustrates the importance of animals in our lives, which was seen time and time again after the hurricanes as people refused to evacuate without their pets,” said Dean Peter F. Haynes. “In the 1950s the pet was consigned to the yard; by the 1960s the pet had been allowed in the house; by the 1970s the pet was allowed to sleep in the bedroom; now they may even be under the blankets. With companion animals owned by more than two-thirds of our family households…..today, our focus is on the human-animal bond and the importance of animals in the lives of so many people.”


This one-of-a-kind artwork, designed by Kentucky sculptor Meg White, is a central part of the Milton J. Womack Serenity Garden. Donated by the Womack family and dedicated in memory of the late Milton J. Womack, Sr., the Serenity Garden is located near the Small Animal Clinic entrance of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  Landscaped by LSU landscape architecture graduate students, it provides a peaceful spot for reflection. The Serenity Garden can also serve to honor special people and pets through the placement of an engraved pavement brick.