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Australian vets treat victims of deadly Victorian bushfires

At least one veterinary clinic reportedly succumbed to blaze


February 18, 2009
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service


The bushfires scorching southern Australia since Feb. 7 have slowed, but veterinarians there continue to treat and euthanize animals impacted by the flames. 

Thousands of animals were injured and perished along with 200 people who died in what officials are calling the country’s deadliest wildfires on record. Police suspect at least two of the fires were set intentionally and on Monday, charged a 39-year-old man with arson.

Residents of Victoria, ground zero for much of the burning, are stunned after massive infernos turned 1,500 square miles of farms, forests and communities into blackened wastelands. And along with displaced people, animal survivors lost their homes and food sources, area veterinarians contend. 

On Saturday, Dr. Joanna Steuten, of Animal Aid Veterinary Clinic in Australia, reported an "urgent need" to treat animals, including horses and livestock with no feed and cats and dogs suffering from burned feet and smoke inhalation. With her practice "heavily involved" in the rescue efforts, she confirmed to the Veterinary Information Network that "thousands of wildlife have been killed or seriously injured."

"There is also the terrible job of euthanizing those too far gone to be saved and disposal of bodies," she says.

While other relief veterinarians could not be reached at press time, Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) President Dr. Mark Lawrie reports that members have provided enough “vet power” in Victoria to cope with area demands, hosting triage facilities to care for injured animals. 

In another media release, Dr. Roslyn Nichol, AVA Victorian Division president reports that victim numbers are “enormous” and says pets, farm animals and wildlife are suffering. "The effect the fires can have on non-domestic animals that shun human contact often results in a slow and agonizing death," the release says. 

Offers of support from the public and veterinarians are a bright spot, the release adds. 

“Vets and vet nurses from across the state have pitched in to meet the demand, treating those animals caught up in the fire-ravaged areas,” Nichol says. “Government veterinarians have been on the front line, locating, assessing and helping injured livestock. The Victorian Department of Primary Industries has arranged for interstate animal health experts to relieve them.

“It’s inspiring to see how our communities and colleagues respond in an emergency situation like this,” she says. 

The University of Melbourne’s veterinary clinic is taking in and treating animals affected by the bushfires while the state’s Bureau of Animal Welfare has developed a Web page dedicated to providing aid.

Along with reports of scorched wildlife, officials say hundreds of area horses have been displaced. In response, the Victorian Bushfire Lost and Found has been set up to unite owners and animals. Veterinarians who relocated horses are encouraged to register with the agency. 

Animal shelters also are searching for owners of hundreds of displaced companion animals. According to local media reports, shelter workers fear that many owners might have assumed that their pets died or could be searching in the wrong places. 

AVA officials acknowledge that at least one Victorian veterinary medical practice fell to the flames and say they are gathering more information on area veterinarians. In the meantime, Division President Nichol sheds some light on the extent of the devastation. 

“Many of these vets have been personally affected in the tragedy, losing friends, neighbors and their own homes,” she says. 

AVA requests that anyone with knowledge about practitioners affected by the fires to contact the association

To donate to rescue and relief efforts, visit http://www.animalaid.com.au, https://www.redcross.org.au/Donations/onlineDonations.asp and http://rspcavic.org. 

AVA compiled a list of organizations providing assistance at http://www.animalhealthaustralia.com.au/publications/update/aha-fire-and-flood-update/aha-fire-and-flood-update_home.cfm#story_4.



VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email news@vin.com.



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