Ike's aftermath

Veterinarians endure post storm

September 17, 2008 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Houston — His practice feeds off generators, a skeleton crew and merciful weather.

For Dr. Stephen Pittenger, life at Memorial-610 Hospital for Animals is normal compared to many in the Houston area. The small-animal practitioner still has power in his home, virtually no wind damage at his practice and mere days after Hurricane Ike plowed through, clients are filtering back in for regular appointments.

“We were spared the major brunt,” he says. “We got so lucky that a Canadian cold front came down right after Ike. It’s 64 degrees here.”

But travel further south, and one bears witness to the devastation. On Tuesday morning, the Houston Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) set up incident command and shelter on devastated Galveston Island, to help animals and the one veterinarian whose practice is still standing.

According to SPCA reports, Dr. Ken Diestler’s practice remains upright roughly a quarter of a mile from the seawall. Miller says the DVM was the first to assist abandoned animals and evacuees’ remaining pets.

“We’ve provided some generators for him, and he’s been making calls from a pay phone that by chance is still operational,” Miller says. “SPCA has been overwhelmed with people contacting them to see if veterinary practices are still open.”
According to experts, no one really knows the answer. Calls to the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) and Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) were not returned by press time. “We’re just now getting to the point where we can start trying to figure out where people are; the phone service is really spotty here,” Pittenger says.

A TAHC alert issued Monday reveals the federal government deployed its National Veterinary Response Team to assist in Texas recovery operations. Other DVM aide workers are standing by to provide assistance.

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