California Launches Team to Provide Aid to Livestock and Domestic Animals During Emergencies

Members of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team prepare to treat animals in a fire zone.
Members of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team prepare to treat animals in a fire zone.
(Don Preisler, UC Davis)

Leaders from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), veterinarians and California legislators have launched a new program – the California Veterinary Emergency Team – to help rescue livestock and domestic animals during disasters.

The primary goal of the new team is to increase response capacity and help standardize disaster response across counties, bringing together “disparate and fragment groups.”

“We want to create a robust, coordinated effort statewide to help animals during disasters,” said Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and executive director of the One Health Institute. “The California Veterinary Emergency Team will bring together state and county agencies and organizations charged with emergency response to help them organize, train and adopt best practices.”

Currently, the California Animal Response Emergency System (CARES), within California’s Department of Food and Agriculture manages the care of animals during emergencies and work with community animal response teams and nonprofit organizations.

The new team will mobilize to disasters anywhere in California, operating under a memorandum of understanding with the California Department of Agriculture and the Office of Emergency Services. Between disasters, the team will recruit, train and drill with volunteers, conduct research and train veterinarians and veterinary students about best practices in shelter and emergency medicine.

The program will be modeled after the UC Davis-led Oiled Wildlife Care Network, which was founded in 1994 to mobilize volunteers and professionals to rescue and treat shorebirds and other wildlife that are injured during oil spills, the announcement continues.

The team will be overseen by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and will support and train a network of government agencies, organizations and individuals to provide aid, a university release announces.

The team will receive $3 million per year from the state, under legislation authored by Sen. Steve Glazer and incorporated into the state budget that was recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Recent wildfires have overwhelmed the state’s ability to safely evacuate and care for household animals and livestock,” Sen. Glazer said in the release. “Twice in the past five years we have had to call on Texas to send an emergency team to assist. That puts not just animals at risk but also increases the danger for residents and first responders if people stay behind fire lines because they fear their animals will not be cared for. We need this new team to help train, coordinate and lead the hundreds of volunteers who are eager to help. Our goal is a team that is ready to respond anywhere in the state with a mobile command center, a clinic if necessary, and the veterinarians, equipment and medicine to get the job done.”

Building on past experience

In the past, UC Davis has provided veterinary disaster response though its Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT), Wildlife Disaster Network partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and its veterinary medical teaching hospital disaster patient care, the release says. UC Davis VERT and hospital teams triage, evaluate, treat and/or rescue more than 1,000 animals in the field during a wildfire event. In the 2018 Camp Fire, the teams helped more than 1,500 animals, including 70 that were brought to the hospital for treatment.

“The funding of the California Veterinary Emergency Team provides unprecedented resources that will bring multiple partners across the state of California together to enhance recruitment, coordination, and training of volunteers, veterinarians and veterinary students in best practices in disaster response and sheltering of animals in disasters,” said Michael Lairmore, former dean and distinguished professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine, in the release.

Lairmore explained the university is committed to working with partners across the state to ensure that the California Veterinary Emergency Team program is successful. Developing the California Veterinary Emergency Team is expected to take some time, but it is anticipated the program will be in an organizational phase during this fire season.


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