When disaster strikes, shelter veterinarians may suddenly find themselves dealing with scores of sick or injured animals in a makeshift medical setting. The work is demanding both physically and mentally, and the rewards—knowing you’ve helped the victims of a hurricane or a hoarding situation—can be great. But disaster response requires more than just good intentions. To be effective, you need proper training, flexibility and adherence to protocols for assessing and treating animals in disaster situations.
In a facility with cracks, leaks and creaks all over, it can be hard to provide the best care for your animals and keep disease from spreading. But like the saying goes, if you can’t change something, change the way you think about it. So until you get that extreme shelter makeover, take other steps to curb disease. Learn how creative retrofitting and routine maintenance, clear cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and organized traffic flow can help keep the microbes from spreading—even in your leaky, creaky, cracking shelter.
The basis of any healthy shelter environment is sanitation. A few upgrades to your practices can have a lifesaving effect for the animals in your care. Consider everything from the cleaning and disinfecting process to staff’s clothing to make sure that you’re achieving maximum cleanliness—and don’t forget to wash your hands!
Access to basic medical careis considered a fundamental human right in many nations. In any community, it has a major impact on quality of life. This goes not only for humans, but for their companion animals as well. Most of us know that if we wake up with a sore throat, we can drive to a doctor. Similarly, when our pets are unwell, we can take them to a veterinarian and get the treatment to help make them healthy.
In my role as senior director of shelter medicine at the ASPCA, I consult with shelters from across the country during widespread or severe infectious disease outbreaks. Most are facilities housing dogs and cats, although equine and farm animal shelters in the United States are increasingly seeking medical advice.
Many pet owners and some veterinary professionals are increasingly concerned about the risk of overvaccination, and are choosing to vaccinate owned animals less frequently—or even not to vaccinate at all. Indeed, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s panleukopenia handout (2010) boldly announces, “In the past, feline panleukopenia was a leading cause of death in cats. Today, it is an uncommon disease, due in large part to the availability and use of very effective vaccines.”