Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on the Hurricane Ike deployment

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte of Shawnee, Kansas (pictured below), after spending a week in Beaumont, Texas helping animal victims of Hurricane Ike

I just arrived home and decided to blog a bit before I go to bed. I’ve said before that no two deployments are alike and Beaumont is no exception to that rule. The initial team of five Emergency Animal rescue Service (EARS) volunteers got into Beaumont a week ago. The job definitely seemed more than a little overwhelming at first. The days all seem to run together when you are deployment, but to the best of my recollection, here is what the week looked like.

Day 1, Thursday, September 18: I arrived in Houston in the morning. The drive from Houston to Beaumont took a while because there was no electricity, which means no traffic lights. I arrived at the shelter mid-day. Four more EARS volunteers arrived later that afternoon and evening. The animal count at that time was approximately 250 and growing. It consisted of approximately 173 dogs, 66 cats, 2 swans, a horse, a group of guinea pigs and 2 ferrets. The shelter’s normal capacity is around 125. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was conducting rescues so an intake station and vet station were set up in the parking lot. The facility consists of a spay/neuter clinic in one building and the shelter in another building. Both buildings were bulging at the seams with animals and there were also cages placed on a covered area on the side of the building. We worked until dark, which became the standard practice as the week went on. There were no restaurants open, a handful of grocery stores open that allowed access to a few people at a time, and we had a 6 p.m. curfew to comply with. Meals and lodging the first night were basically non-existent. Some people elected to sleep in the animal shelter on the floor. Others stayed in their cars. We didn’t have time to pitch tents. There was a shower (ha, ha -- it was a garden hose thrown over a kennel with a blanket clipped to the door for privacy).

Day 2, Friday, September 19: We started bright and early in the morning. We had a couple more EARS volunteers come in during the day, but the work was still massive. We implemented the daily care logs that we have used in other deployments to help us track the feeding, walking and cleaning.

Day 3, Saturday, September 20: The weekend was busy with intakes and implementing EARS processes. The EARS volunteers were terrific! We had a team of people with diverse skill sets, which allowed us to divide tasks and attack the problem areas. One volunteer partnered with the staff vet to create a process to identify health problems and communicate them in a timely manner to the vet. We also undertook a major cleaning effort, which involved emptying out one room of approximately 30 dogs, then scrubbing and disinfecting the floor and walls. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, one dog tested positive for parvovirus, although he showed no symptoms. We were concerned that the test could be reading a false positive because the parvo vaccine was administered two days previously. UAN agreed to pay vet bill through the LifeLine Grant program, and we transferred the dog to Dowlen Vet Clinic to be monitored. We were able to reach out to a group called the Southern Baptist Convention, which started delivering lunches and dinners.

Day 4, Sunday, September 21: By Sunday we had 12 EARS volunteers with others arriving later in the day. There was a small shelter crew helping, but for the most part, the shelter staff had been given a week off to deal with their own personal losses. The animal count had increased to approximately 280 by that time. HSUS was no longer doing rescues, but we continued to intake a large number of animals. We speculated it was due to downed fences. Thanks to local volunteers we were able to keep our heads above water, although it still required we walk dogs after dark with flashlights. The Southern Baptist Convention was also able to work with a local church to get us one room for volunteers to sleep in and allowed us to all shower in their shower trailers each night.

Day 5, Monday, September 22: The processes that we put into place were finally beginning to pay off. We had gotten into a routine, but with only a few shelter staff, we had taken on even more duties. Again the local volunteers pulled us through with 19 people from the community volunteering. We maintained our number of EARS volunteers at 12. We were actually beginning to feel pretty good about things overall. BIG MISTAKE! It is always dangerous to begin to think you have things under control. We not only discovered that the shelter needed to transfer the animals out by September 27, but the disaster animal inventory database was inadvertently deleted and had to be recreated. UGH! By the way, little parvo pup still was not showing signs of parvo.

Day 6, Tuesday, September 23: The word was beginning to get out about the September 27 deadline. This generated a lot of activity at the shelter. We had 28 animals returned to their owners. It was not only great to see animals and owners reunite, but it also meant fewer cages to clean. YIPPEE! HSUS arrived on Wednesday to help the shelter staff create a plan for transferring animals out after the September 27 deadline. We had 14 EARS volunteers, but the local support was beginning to wane. The database was completed by a very persistent EARS volunteer. We were now able to determine that we had approximately 325 animals processed through the shelter after Ike. We also heard from Dowlen Vet Clinic that the parvo puppy did not have parvo and could be picked up. This news made my deployment. My replacement, Janell Matthies, arrived from California that evening.

Day 7, Wednesday, September 23: I picked up the parvo puppy first thing this morning. He will be shipped out with one of the EARS volunteers and her shelter will help find him a home. She will keep us updated on his adopted family.

Overall, this was a very difficult deployment, but a good one for me because I witnessed the most amazing commitment among our volunteers. They were working through lunches and walking dogs in the dark to make sure every dog was cared for. They were also sensitive to the shelter staff and worked closely with them to improve their skills. Many animals were labeled “aggressive,” but trained EARS volunteers were able to work with the animals to calm them.

There were a lot of great reunifications that we were able to experience over the past few days, but I think the best story is about our EARS volunteers. This was a group effort and every volunteer’s contribution was critical to the success of this deployment. It was the best team effort I’ve been a part of. One volunteer said he was having flashbacks to when he was in the military. I think that is a probably a pretty good analogy. When I left I felt like I had fought more than a few battles. Maybe we lost a few, but we definitely have a winning record. I feel so blessed to have had an opportunity to be a part of this effort with these amazing volunteers. Kudos to all!

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