Today’s e-mail inbox was flush with post possibilities. Among the topic selections, a scary case of rabies, a pre-veterinary student’s lament, and a question on how to know whether your shelter adoptee is healthy; all worthy topics.

Still, I chose to highlight an unsung issue: Disaster relief for animals, and — more specifically — the people who do this kind of work.

Why’s it important?

Because when the hand basket takes a dive, it’s not just the humans who suffer. As Katrina taught us, the plight of animals concurrently beset by these crises can rage on even while human life starts looking like it might be getting back to normal.

But it’s not just about shelter pets and hurricanes. The National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC) deals in "foreign animal disease outbreaks, natural [and] man-made disasters, [bringing] an urgent need for animal health medical professionals to address an event or emergency."

Here’s their pitch:

Animal health emergencies can be considered the "worst of times" and can easily overwhelm the resources of a state or local agency. That's when the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC) is called to action.

At a state's request, NAHERC provides surge and sustainment personnel and a system of partner resources working together with state and local personnel to provide animal health care and support to communities when every minute counts.

NAHERC personnel are nationally organized private veterinarians, technicians, and DVM students trained to conduct work on federally declared operation sites in accordance with the DHS/FEMA Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Response Plan (NRP). NAHERC is a national team which draws on an array of veterinary professionals in various fields that include small animal, large animal, poultry, aquatic, exotic, epidemiologist and academia.

In an animal emergency, disease outbreak, bioterrorism, or natural disaster, NAHERC staff may be required to perform many duties. These assignments may include conducting surveillance, examining herds or flocks for signs of disease, collecting specimens, vaccinating animals, conducting post-mortem examinations, euthanizing animals, supervising the disposal of animal carcasses, collecting epidemiological information, inspecting livestock markets, trucks and vehicles, and other duties as assigned.

To be sure, this is NOT sexy work. What’s worse, there’s no way to know when you’ll be tapped. Single parents and one-income households need not apply. Which brings me to the obvious question: Is this purely a volunteer endeavor or is there some kind of compensation involved?

"NAHERC personnel are paid while serving as intermittent federal employees."

Hmmm … sounds unpromising — like it might just barely cover the cost of your volunteerism. This is not to disparage the program at all, but rather to explain that those who get out and do this kind of work are to be especially commended for their sacrifices.

Which is definitely something to think about as we head into hurricane season’s high-water mark.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: University, New Orleans, LA, 9-16-05 by Marvin Nauman/FEMA photo

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