Hurricane Politics: Part III - The argument for breed specific rescue organizations…

Hurricane Politics: Part III - The argument for breed specific rescue organizations to partner with

By: Staff  Date: 11/7/2005 Category: | Rescue |

Above and beyond my observations at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center shelter, I also had occasion to visit the shelter operations at the John Parker Agriculture Center on the Louisiana State University (LSU) Campus. This shelter was set up to handle dogs accompanied by and turned in by their owners. My function was to advise shelter supervisors that the Doberman Pinscher Club of America was present to assist Dobermans and owners in need. The difference in the shelter operations was very apparent to me. After providing our information to those in charge, I left that shelter confident in the knowledge that the animals were receiving good care.

After these experiences, I was then given the unexpected opportunity to participate and exchange information with other shelter operators throughout the State. Captain Stephanie Ostrowski, USPHS and Animal Advisor for the entire Gulf region, conducted a fact-finding and lessons-learned event. This opportunity came at the request of Diane Albers, President of the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs (FAKC) who had also planned on attending on behalf of the American Kennel Club (AKC). Ms. Albers could not attend due to the arrival of Hurricane Wilma upon Florida shores. Given my experience at two Louisiana shelters and my geographical location in the city where this meeting was held, I was invited to attend on her behalf. Upon my arrival, I had the opportunity to commend USPHS personnel on their animal contributions during my tenure at the Gonzales shelter. I was extremely surprised to learn that this was USPHS’ first deployment with an animal recovery focus.
My participation in an IMMEDIATE lessons-learned and constructive approach to dealing with future animal recovery efforts was rewarding.  My respect of the USPHS and the team of federal agencies who assisted in this disaster not only grew, but I was also left with a great sense of satisfaction that the human-animal bond is very much recognized, that the problems encountered by all animal rescue organizations have been and are being considered, and that constructive evaluation and consideration of critical issues is underway. 
The comments and focus provided by Vice Admiral Thad Allen and Rear Admiral Craig Vanderwagen which particularly impressed me were:


  • Recognition that if you want folks to evacuate, you need to manage the pet issue.
  • Recognition that you must also provide for those with no transportation.
  • Recognition that emergency response for animals can be strengthened.
  • Recognition that part of Federal disaster and emergency assistance business is to pull in skilled assets (instead of just doling them out)
  • Consideration regarding the classification of animal recovery efforts under the Federal Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) and the National Response Plan. 


We were also advised that ESF vehicles can be put in place next year, while changes or additions to the National Response Plan could take longer. 
Overviews of the National Response plan, the Human-Animal Bond and the State of Louisiana Plan for Hurricane Evacuation were provided by USPHS and Panel discussions by Parish Animal Control and Shelter Operations followed.  A synopsis of this information is provided below.

Generally, the benefits of the human-animal bond are well documented.  According to the AVMA, 62% of households have at least one pet.  Studies indicate that households with pets are significantly less likely to evacuate during mandatory orders than those without pets.  Additionally, the greater number of pets in a household, the less likely the residents will evacuate.
Our new National Response Plan was developed to align Federal coordinating structure, capabilities and resources; and ensure an all-discipline and all-hazards approach to domestic incident management.  This National Response Plan recognizes that state and local responders are the first to arrive, that the state and local executives are responsible for public safety and welfare, and that Governors may request Federal assistance under a presidential or emergency declaration when state resources and capabilities are overwhelmed.  As a practical matter, it takes 3-5 days for Federal responders to mobilize.  They can, however do some “leaning forward” in the case of hurricane disasters.

Emergency Support Functions (ESF) provides the staffing and resources for the incident command structure.  In the wake of Katrina, the USPHS provided Emergency Animal response under ESF #11 - Agriculture and Natural Resources.  In this case, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture was the lead agency.  Animal response by USPHS, however, is also available under ESF #8 to deal with Animal Control and Zoonotic diseases.  In that event, the lead State Agency would differ. Throughout this presentation, the State - Federal distinction was always noted. Emphasis was given to the fact that Federal emergency and disaster relief is always provided “in assistance to the State”.

Thereafter the role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) was discussed.  It is under the NGO classification that pre-credentialed and pre-qualified animal rescue groups are being considered to best assist and strengthen animal recovery efforts in times of disaster. The rationale and purpose for exploring this option is to strengthen the skilled assets which our Federal government can provide to States in times of need, while also addressing many of the common problems experienced by State and Local officials as well as the animal rescuers themselves. It is through state and federal pre-credentialed and pre-certified animal responders that I see breed-specific rescues “partnering” through positive working relationships and pre-disaster credentialing and certifying themselves. 

Captain Ostrowski proceeded to identify specific operations which she felt performed well in their animal recovery tasks. Comments from the representatives of these operations emphasized that they placed credentialed and experienced people in places of leadership, and then ran the shelter like a “military operation”.  Leadership roles were assigned to the various animal recovery functions - namely, volunteers, supplies, search and rescue, intake, vets, vet techs, behaviorists, and export.

A round table discussion designed to identify common problems and areas of common vision then ensued. Agreement by most, if not all present seemed centered on:


  • The loss of all communications and power.
  • Screening and better utilization of the volunteer force.
  • The eventual failure of neckband identifiers necessitating microchipping upon export.
  • Rumor control in the face of fast-paced email communications; and
  • Supply coordination and distribution. 


I came away from this meeting with an understanding that “partnering” or “federalizing” animal rescue volunteers through credentialing and pre-certifying would not only provide much needed benefits and resources to animal rescue groups, but also provide some means of verifiable identification to the State and Local agencies requesting assistance.  I believe federal government organizations are best prepared to utilize and manage an "all volunteer" effort to provide the best care for the animals.

The benefits available to animal rescue groups credentialed and pre-certified through the Federal “partnering” program would include provision for volunteer transportation, port-a-potties, food and housing. Further, these groups would become a part of the Incident Command System in which daily communications occur and press releases are provided. Supplies and volunteers could be more effectively coordinated and distributed to match the needs of each operation. It was my perception that most, if not all - of the animal rescue groups represented welcomed this opportunity.
Additionally, on the human side of this disaster, USPHS had an established website wherein the credentials of volunteers could be checked.  The consideration being given to integrating human and animal rescue recognizes that these same resources would be evaluated on the animal side.  The "partnering" or "federalizing" of animal rescuers also resolves many of the licensing and malpractice issues presented by vets, search and rescue groups, animal control officers and the shelter operators.
“Partnering” with federal disaster teams through pre-credentialing would also allow for the development of infrastructure and protocols for state and national database information. Veterinarians, animal control officers, technical rescue teams with animal capabilities, shelter managers, animal behaviorists and dog trainers, if pre-credentialed, can step in more quickly to help. “Partnering” can also be used to further assure animal care standards by implementing standard operating procedures, uniform paperwork and protocol for animal rescue operations. 

Besides providing animal rescue groups and volunteers better discernment about which operations have a specific need for their specific services, "partnering" allows for supplies to be coordinated to reach those operations needing them most.  Also inherent in "partnering" is accountability. 

I view the organizational framework currently under review and consideration by USPHS personnel as a very positive and constructive one. It demands an organizational structure whereby state, local and federal “partnering” with skilled animal rescue personnel is put in place under standard operating procedures.  It assures better care to all of the animals who require emergency assistance and it leaves philosophical agendas, animal politics, fundraising and egos at the door.

In my opinion, breed-specific rescue organizations were a valuable asset overlooked in the Katrina aftermath.  While these organizations are viewed by some as “elitists” or uncaring about the rest of the animals, such is not the case.  Breed clubs are comprised of individuals who have devoted a significant portion of their lives to understanding the structure, temperament and health issues of their breed of choice.  Their knowledge of their breeds is unmatched by most.  Their devotion to the placement of these animals in proper foster environments and their willingness to step up as highly skilled animal rescuers should not be ignored.  If the welfare of the animals is considered first, who better to rely upon for assistance and proper foster placement of these animals than those who’ve devoted years to the study and betterment of their beloved breed? 
National breed clubs take seriously their responsibilities to their breeds and rescue is not a function that they ignore.  Breed specific rescues are funded by membership contributions and it is the members of these groups who work 365 days a year to pull from shelters and place their breeds in loving and appropriate environments.          
Further, if the breed rescue organization is one whose breed is commonly sought to be banned from communities or one which is commonly used in criminal enterprise, assistance from these organizations becomes more important.  These breed club organizations understand, more than many, the results of the abuse and misuse of their breeds and are there to protect the animals.  
In this regard, three situations which I encountered in the Katrina animal recovery aftermath deserve some discussion.  

Our fears regarding specific breeds are legitimate. My own personal fear was that my breed of choice, the Doberman Pinscher, would suffer abuse or at the very least, neglect and inattention in the hands of those who do not know it.  I was and am well aware of the public perception of this breed, albeit a mistaken belief in my opinion. Dobermans are also abused and misused by those engaged in criminal enterprise.  This fear was realized very early on when my breed club rescue representatives were advised of a Doberman in a shelter who couldn't’t walk.  Photographs of this Doberman’s rescue showed this animal standing on all fours with rescue personnel. Once placed in our care, it was determined that this Doberman had suffered a broken pelvis which required extensive surgery.

The next situation which I personally encountered reveals the general disdain that many feel for breed specific rescuers, which I again believe is unwarranted and uncalled for.  It was my custom to approach the animal rescue vehicles which had ventured into New Orleans and who lined up every afternoon and evening to bring rescued animals into the Lamar-Dixon shelter. Oftentimes, the lines were long, and these rescue volunteers would stand outside of their vehicles, tend to the animals, and chat while awaiting their turn to go through the intake process.  I always introduced myself as being there for Doberman rescue, inquired if there were any Dobermans on board, if they had seen or fed any, and of so, in what area or Parish that they were located.  Further, if I had been given any information about Dobermans left in homes at specific addresses, I not only provided that information to the search and rescue information area, but also to the search and rescue folks in these vehicles who met each morning before venturing out into different sectors of the City.  When I approached one of these vehicles on a particular evening, I was met with the comment, “I hate breeders!” Inherent in this scathing comment was the notion that the breeders of purebred animals were somehow responsible for all the animals requiring rescue.

To the contrary, and according to what I observed, most of the animals entering the Lamar-Dixon shelter were mixed breeds.  It was neither the time nor the place, and quite futile to try to explain to the person making this comment that breeders of purebred animals were there, willing to assist in the efforts to foster the breeds they so love, funded by their breed club membership, in a responsible, knowledgeable and giving manner.

It was also neither the time nor place, and futile, to convince this search and rescue volunteer that the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs (FAKC) , both of whom are supported by purebred breeders and enthusiasts, made its supplies, experienced personnel and assistance available to ALL of the animals requiring rescue.  This has always been done and continues to be done throughout each disaster in which animal rescue operations are performed. My point in addressing this encounter is that the breeders of purebred animals support the rescue efforts of ALL animals through different organizations. While the breeders of purebred animals contribute in many ways to support animal rescue and recovery efforts for ALL of the animals who require it, they are met with misunderstanding and disdain when it comes to the care, fostering, and placement of the animals that they know best.

My last encounter includes a conversation with a volunteer who, when she read my name tag, “Doberman Rescue”, commented, “Too bad you can’t be here for ALL the dogs”.  My reply to her was that I wished I could, that I had owned yellow lab mixes and yellow lab purebreds for over 25 years, which I was raised with a poodle, and seeing these animals in this facility was particularly hard for me.  I further explained that I was not a member of the Labrador Retriever or Poodle Breed Clubs, so I didn't have the funding or the resources to care for these animals and be assured of their proper placement.  I went on to explain that I was, however, a member of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, and because its membership had provided funding and foster resources, I could assist the other breed that I loved dearly.  This volunteer seemed to then understand that I wasn’t there in any “elitist” capacity - and I was just there to contribute in the best way that I could with the resources that were available to me.    
I am advised that many, many breed specific rescue organizations presented themselves on-site and were turned away from the Lamar-Dixon shelter until its final weeks in operation.   

In short, breed specific rescuers are “skilled assets” who deserve a place in any disaster mitigation structure set up to accommodate and provide for the best care and welfare of the animals.  Other reasons for their inclusion are more practical in nature.  For instance, at some point in time, was used to photograph animals as they entered the Lamar-Dixon shelter.  These animals were and are catalogued on the Petfinder website according to the breed description given during intake.  This was done to assist with owner re-unification. One fawn Doberman I pulled from that facility had paperwork which classified her as a “pointer mix”.   The misidentification of this animal, through error or just a lack of knowledge about breed types, does nothing to assist in owner re-unification efforts.  Quite frankly, I don’t believe that any Doberman owner would even think to look for an animal designated as a “pointer mix” to discern if it’s theirs.   Wouldn’t it be easier on all involved in the fostering and owner re-unification effort if there existed a purebred clearinghouse of sorts in the organizational structure whereby the owners of all purebred animals could be directed to the national breed club rescue efforts?     
I’ve written my experiences and observations in an effort to promote some constructive and beneficial changes for future animal recovery operations.   While critics might dismiss my observations as one “new” to rescue, my response is that oftentimes, “new” eyes with common sensibilities are less likely to accept what others have come to see as inevitable or commonplace.  My shelter experience left me feeling exhausted, drained and with a keen sense of urgency that “we can and must do better”. 
I’ve taken heart at the approach and the review being performed by the USPHS under the direction of Captain Ostrowski and Vice Admiral Thad Allen and am encouraged by the words, “the integration of human and animal rescue”.  I am thankful that the importance and the benefits that animals provide to the majority of Americans is being given due recognition.  We CAN do better, and it is my hope that all who read these words will call upon their neighbors, legislators and representatives to do so.  Having said that, the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), National Animal Interest Alliance Trust (NAIA Trust) and Diane Albers, President of the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs (FAKC) are valuable resources you can call upon for assistance.          
I’ve been asked on several occasions if I think a Congressional hearing is in order on the Katrina Animal Recovery efforts.   In that regard, I will offer a few comments about observations which I made along the way.  

First, breed specific rescue organizations exist and work with local animal control shelter operations 365 days a year.  Many of these volunteers visit animal shelters weekly and have spent years developing good working relationships with the directors of these facilities.  Yet, when disaster strikes, these very same rescue organizations are relegated to the rear or out the door entirely.  Why is that? 

Next, there is one comment made by an ASPCA official at the Lamar-Dixon facility to a group of individuals in her presence which comes to mind quite often.  “You are fighting over the animals”. My query thus becomes:  If this is so, why, and should it be? My own thoughts are that no animal rescue group should feel the need to “fight over the animals”; that ALL of the animals should initially be taken to secure facilities that can provide good animal care; and that the “fight over animals” grounded in fund-raising, animal politics, philosophical differences and agendas have absolutely no place in a disaster situation.  If this is so, the animals become mere commodities and it is they who suffer yet again.


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