Veterinarians, clinic staff recount effects of Sandy

ACVS cancels annual symposium

October 30, 2012 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Veterinary practices are among the millions of businesses and residences without power Tuesday after Sandy pummeled a large swath of the eastern United States and Canada, wreaking havoc on homes and businesses as far inland as Chicago.  

Sandy, a hurricane that subsided into a post-tropical storm, is one of the biggest storms ever to strike the United States. It came ashore Monday night, lashing coastal regions with 90 mph winds while washing away the iconic Atlantic City boardwalk and drowning parts of New York City in 13 feet of water. National news reports estimate that roughly 8 million customers are without power in 15 states and the District of Columbia. At least 39 people are dead and flooding has been characterized as “catastrophic” by a variety of government agencies.  

Animal lovers geared up to try to keep pets safe through the natural disaster. On Sunday, someone set up a Hurricane Sandy Lost and Found Pets Facebook page, which quickly filled with photographs of cats and dogs that had gone missing or been picked up. Among the lost was a harlequin macaw from New Jersey. 

The page also serves as a bulletin board for shelters offering temporary harbor or requiring assistance. About 1 a.m. Tuesday, the Woodbridge Animal Shelter in Sewaren, N.J., across the water from New York’s Staten Island, posted: 

“Urgent, urgent, urgent. The first floor of our ... shelter ... has been submerged in more than 5 feet of water, causing significant damage to the facility and destroying all of our supplies. Our courageous Animal Control Staff managed to get all of the dogs to safety on the second floor and then had to be evacuated themselves by boat. We are in desperate need of assistance from rescues, shelters and fosters to provide temporary housing for our dogs. To get them through the night, they are in crates, closets and cat cages but we will need to find placement for them while we assess the damage, make necessary repairs and restock supplies. ...” 

The VIN News Service was unable to reach shelter staff Tuesday afternoon for an update. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams are awaiting orders to deploy if needed, according to spokeswoman Sharon Granskog. Mobile clinics have been set up by various organizations including the North Shore Animal League of Port Washington, N.Y.   

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported that some 240 animals currently are being cared for in shelters dotting New York City’s five boroughs. The ASPCA and the North Shore Animal League deployed emergency response teams in the New York City metropolitan area.  

Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, which has round-the-clock emergency and referral hospitals in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, committed to staying open through the storm and was able to do so. Staff at the three locations said they lost phone and Internet service for a time but never lost electricity. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the hospitals reported being busy seeing clients with pets needing emergency care whose regular veterinarians were closed. They said very few patients had storm-related injuries. “We had one kitten that was found outside under a tree limb, but that was it,” said Diana Citrola, practice manager at the Blue Pearl hospital in Queens. 

Kevin Bannon, Blue Pearl’s emergency supervisor in Brooklyn, said all three hospitals are on high ground, helping them to avoid floodwaters. But high winds Monday night caused nervous moments. 

“The Brooklyn hospital has 15-foot windows ... so that was a bit unnerving when they were moving,” Bannon said. “Our front doors are glass doors, so we definitely saw debris flying down the street and a few downed trees.” 

The biggest challenge for doctors and staff members, he said, was traveling between their respective homes and the clinic. “With no public transportation in the city and all the bridges and tunnels being closed, it was not easy for our staff getting in and out," Bannon said.

Anticipating this, managers stocked up on provisions, and those who could not make it home spent the night at the clinic on air mattresses. 

Bannon himself lives only 1-1/2 miles from his work place but has been at the hospital since Sunday to fill in for staff members who are stuck at home. 

How soon things get back to normal, Bannon said, depends on how quickly public transportation — not least of which are the subway trains — can be brought back to service. “Local veterinarians are probably going to be slow to open up if their staff can’t get to and from work,” he said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said authorities would try to restore subway service in about four days, according to a New York Times report.

Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass., is among many major institutions operating on backup generators. The Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals within the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is open but taking just emergency cases, a university spokeswoman said Tuesday.  

Storm-related aggravations persisted 500 miles inland where violent winds uprooted trees and downed power lines, making many roads impassable in Cleveland and surrounding suburbs along Lake Erie. As of Tuesday evening, at least 250,000 customers in the region, including several veterinary practices, were without power.  

Although inhabitants of Atlantic coastal states were girded for the worst, some weathered the storm with relatively minor inconveniences. For example, Dr. Ebalinna Vaughn's veterinary practice in Marshall, Va., was without electricity for about four hours starting Monday night into early morning Tuesday. "By 5 a.m., my husband said the answering machine was picking up again," she said. "We have no damage." 

Dr. Mark Grossman in Manteo, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, also was fortunate. He reported Tuesday that he hadn't lost electricity, and that his practice sustained very little damage despite the fact that some nearby roads washed away.  

“I’ve always told my partner that if a bad storm hit us, the clinic is the place to be,” he said. “We have a concrete slab, and the kennel area is built with cinderblocks. The kennel area would be the safest place to be.”  
That’s not the case for the skies above Sandy, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. With 15,000-plus flights grounded, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons canceled its annual symposium. The meeting was scheduled to start Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. On its website, ACVS officials stated:

“We have carefully considered the implications of the storm regarding travel and available speakers and have determined that cancellation is the best course of action. ACVS will communicate with participants about refunds once the crisis has passed.” 

Edie Lau and Phyllis DeGioia contributed to this report.

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