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RUSVM Spokesperson talks disaster preparedness with pets and animals in mind


by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): In 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Centre (NOAA-CPC) has predicted a 65 percent chance of an above-normal Atlantic Hurricane Season.

At the start of the season in June, the emphasis on preparedness has focused on citizens and residents, businesses and institutions.

RUSVM SPOKESPERSON: Dr. Christa A. Gallagher DVM, CCRP, MPH, DACVPM Associate Professor of Veterinary Public Health & Epidemiology

In an interview with WINN on June 9, the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) Spokesperson, Dr Christa Gallagher, an Associate Professor of Veterinary Public Health & Epidemiology, spoke about the need to include pets and livestock in disaster preparedness plans as well.

How does Ross view and prepare for the Atlantic Hurricane Season and other natural disasters?

Preparation is the foremost consideration for disasters, according to Dr Gallagher. The university is working on producing “Preparedness and Response-thinking vets. The hurricane team strategises how to handle a disaster; they not only talk about preparedness but they put it into practice.

Dr Gallagher spoke of the considerations for the staff, students and animals kept on the campus.

“Prior to hurricane season, we get together and plan, you know, discuss the plan that we have, how things are going, any updates or changes to that plan. And this plan is really focusing on how we are going to take care of our colleagues, our students and their pets, as well as all the campus animals that we use in teaching and we have our dogs that we use, and then we have more large animals base, we have our sheep and cattle and horses as well. Quite some planning goes into this, and it’s always good to know that we’re practising what we believe in, so our recommendations come from a very personal view of feeling that preparedness is very important.”

Disaster Preparedness for future Veterinarians administering care during and after a disaster is taught through a Disaster Management Elective available for students to take. The course was developed by Dr Gallagher, who has a background in disaster response.

“I just felt like it was very important that they know how to be able to prepare what will be their future clients and their pets in the event of any kind of emergencies or disasters. It’s very successful so far, we’ve had great student interest, and it’s a program that I run throughout the semester. Basically, giving them the basic training to understanding not just how to respond to disasters, but even more importantly, how to plan for them, how to credential yourself to get involved in disaster response, and then thinking about the recovery process and how we help our clients and their pets recover from these disasters when they do happen.”

As the Caribbean is a region subject to seasonal disasters in droughts, floods, hurricanes and storms, and not-so-seasonal disasters (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis), the tips for humans are already ingrained.

Before a storm’s approach:

• Have a disaster plan

• a week’s supply of unperishable foods, water, personal hygiene items and medication

• check the media for weather updates

• Secure any loose items around the home

• Cover windows and doors if possible.

• Have extra water reserves for washing/cleaning/cooking

• Disconnect appliances and gas tanks

• Secure Important documents (passport, visa, insurance cards, immunisation records, credit cards) in an air/water-tight container

• First aid kit, water-purifying supplies–chlorine

• Fully charged phone and battery pack/charger

• Iodine tablets or unscented household bleach

• If you have a pet, please bring an appropriately sized crate as well as medications and food to last up to five (5) days

• Batteries, battery-operated radio

• Flashlights, candles, matches and anything else that may be needed to help with survival and recovery after the storm’s passage.

However, for pet owners and livestock farmers, the following tips were shared for consideration with an emphasis on proper care for healthy and strong pets and livestock even before an impending disaster and having a disaster plan in place.

The top tips for pet owners include:

• Prepare state of mind to keep emotions in check; pets feed off our emotions. According to Dr Gallagher, that state can be achieved through having a plan already in place for disaster preparedness.

• Disaster kit for your pet, which includes essentials; a week’s supply of medical supplies, important pet documents, food and water, a crate and first-aid kits for the pet.

Dr Gallagher added other considerations, “To other things that are especially important, having a photo of your pet and you with your pet is going to be important, thinking about if they do somehow get away from you during a storm this is a way to find them again and recover them. And then the other big consideration is having a pet ID, and there are lots of different ways we can do that, a simple tag on a collar with the owner’s name and information, [a] phone number, that sort of thing. But also we use microchips. It’s something that I’m used to using from what I practised in the United States, and certainly, microchips are used here, and they are very, very helpful at reuniting heads with their families.”

The previous tips were for small pets, but what about larger animals and livestock?

Tips for consideration;

• Enough feed and clean water to last five days if the power goes out, etc.

• Secure any loose items around the animals that could harm them

• Reinforce fencing where needed

• Keep larger animals in an outdoor field

“They’re herding animals, so they’ll huddle together and generally do well outside in a storm. For other animals that we may keep inside, making sure barns are reinforced; plywood on the window just like you would [prepare] your home,” said Dr Gallagher.

Dr Gallagher shared that the main challenge in disaster preparedness she has observed in her career is adopting household disaster plans.

“A lot of people just don’t take the time to make a plan, and that’s where we can go wrong first. When we have a plan, and we have prepared and even sort of exercised that plan a little bit, we are much more prepared for anything that could happen, and we can stay calmer, and we can have clearer thinking which contributes to a lot of things down the line. So I think that’s the number one thing.”

She continued, “We live very busy lives. We’re all working. We’re all taking care of families and pets, and we need to make the time to formulate our disaster plan. Where are you going to go, how will this happen, along with that disaster kit like just really do it. That’s probably the absolute biggest challenge. Because once people do that, you have such a sense of confidence, and you’re ready. Things certainly get thrown at us, and we can never predict some of the crazy things that can happen in disasters, but you’re much more ready if you have thought about it and planned for it.”

In her 11 years with Ross, Dr Gallagher recounted the experience in 2017 during the passages of Irma and Maria. While the Federation was not directly affected and Ross suffered no damage, the university housed several students during the impact of the Hurricanes.

Dr Gallegher, while unsure of the specific capacity the university’s campus has to shelter the students and staff of Ross, assured that there is sufficient space to shelter all students and faculty of Ross if needed.

As the Federation and its livestock farmers have experienced several hurricanes and storms, the farmers may have differing opinions on disaster preparedness for larger animals. Dr Gallegher said Ross would be open to trading tips with local livestock farmers on disaster preparedness and response to broaden the perspective of students, local farmers and Ross collectively.

“Certainly, if someone reaches out, we could certainly do that, because preparing livestock for disasters, they’re slightly different considerations for them versus what we do with our pets. We can’t necessarily take large animals with us anywhere we go, so there are certain things that we do to prepare our properties and farms to take care of them. So that certainly is something that [we] could do and would welcome the opportunity if somebody wanted to reach out and ask to do that.”

As it relates to the university’s assistance to the larger community in response and recovery after a natural disaster, Ross has developed a Disaster Research Working Group and Dr Gallagher shared that they would like more collaboration with St. Kitts on how Ross can aid in recovery and response.

Community response also includes operationalising the Ross University Veterinary Clinic soon after a disaster, which is open to the public for any care that smaller animals would need.


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