Vets Cope With Animals, Infrastructure In Storm's Wake

Posted: Nov. 6, 2012, 7:53 p.m. EST


Published:

Rhonda Windham, left, a veterinarian with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, checks a client’s dog after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City.

The 1948 film noir “The Naked City,” set in Manhattan, concludes with: “There are 8 million stories in the naked city.”

These are the stories of the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy on some of New York City’s dogs, cats and veterinarians.

Halfway House for Pets

One week after Sandy devastated the Staten Island neighborhood where Boulevard Veterinary Group is located, veterinarian Michael Arpino’s clinic has become a halfway house for wayward dogs and cats.

“We took in 17 cats rescued after the storm from a hoarder’s home that was destroyed, and we’ve been boarding them for two nights,” Dr. Arpino reported Monday.

The cats were rescued by Guardians of Rescue, an animal rescue group, and all were suffering from flea anemia and were covered in residue from storm water.

“We’ve been using a lot of our medicine,” Arpino said.

If not for donations from some of Arpino’s vendors, such as Antech Diagnostics of Irvine, Calif., which provided feline leukemia and AIDS blood tests, and Pfizer Animal Health of Madison, N.J., which supplied antibiotics and flea medication, Arpino said he probably would have run out of medicine.

One thing he has run out of is cage space.

“I have one cat from an owner whose house was destroyed and three dogs in the same situation,” he explained. “We are a small facility, and we are running out of cage space, so unfortunately we’ve had to start turning people away.

“There are a lot of homeless animals, and we’re trying to get more cages to stack on top of our existing cages,” he added. “We’ve been doing things for cost as well as a lot of free services for people having trouble right now.”

Hurricane Sandy had a devastating impact on people and pets alike, said Rhonda Windham, an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals veterinarian who has been conducting free wellness exams on pets belonging to evacuees and owners in the hard-hit areas of Staten Island, The Rockaways and Queens.

“When people are cut off from services, so are animals,” she said. “The ASPCA is providing free physical exams, vaccinations, microchipping and flea treatment, and will continue to make our resources available as long as we’re needed.”

Boulevard Veterinary Group lies about a mile from the beach. The storm surge came right up to Arpino’s building.

“Everything behind us to the beach was devastated,” he said.

Arpino’s business didn’t lose power during the storm, a fact he credits to being located next to one of Staten Island’s major police stations.

Many of the older homes in the neighborhood rely on heating oil in colder weather, and this presented a unique challenge for Arpino and his staff.

“A lot of the animals that came in post-storm were covered with home heating oil and storm debris like sand, mud and even sewage,” he noted.

Dr. Windham echoes Arpino’s findings and reports seeing “a lot of irritated skin conditions [in pets] resulting from being in contaminated water.” 

All the storm-affected animals taken in by Arpino were given baths in Dawn liquid dishwashing soap.

Arpino is working with New York City’s ASPCA, which asked whether he would offer his clinic as a distribution center for free dog and cat food and cat litter.

“Of course, we said yes,” he said.

“People have been coming by sporadically for food and litter," he added. “We posted it all over Facebook, but I don’t think too many people know about it, and people don’t have gas for their cars to get here anyhow.”

Arpino even paid the cab fare for one of his employees until bus service was running again.

Too Close for Comfort

When the waters of the Hudson River rose to within a block of the doorstep of Lower Manhattan’s Reade Street Animal Hospital, Mary Xanthos, Reade Street’s veterinarian and co-owner, and Bruce Martin, the general manager and co-owner, found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

 “At about 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, we thought this might be it,” Martin said. “This had never happened, and we thought we might lose it all.”

The pair returned at about 11:30 p.m., and by that time the flood waters had receded some.

“We came back a couple of hours later and breathed the famous sigh of relief,” Martin added.

Like many in Lower Manhattan, Reade Street Animal Hospital lost power and immediately went into crises mode.

“We threw ice on all of our medicines, SNAP tests, and we came back later and put everything in eight coolers with ice packs and schlepped everything up to Dr. Xanthos’ place on the Upper West Side,” Martin explained.

Nothing was ruined, according to Martin, who noted that “it would have been at least $5,000 if we’d lost the medicines.”

The power was out at Reade Street for more than four days.

“Our power came back on at 4 a.m. on Saturday, and we were lucky because our computers, servers and Idexx blood machines all came back,” Martin said.

Upon reopening, Martin and Xanthos extended their normal Saturday hours and were extremely busy Monday as well.

“We called everyone who had an appointment for the four complete days we were closed last week and reached out to them,” Martin said.

A week after Sandy smashed into the East Coast, some Reade Street clients still had no electricity.

“We are extremely fortunate and blessed that in the end all we lost was four days of business,” Martin sighed.

New Jersey Pet Hot Line

A week removed from Hurricane Sandy, thousands of New Jerseyans remain displaced from their homes.

It was during discussions between the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and the Humane Society of the United States that a 24-hour emergency hotline was established to help reunite owners and pets abandoned during evacuations, especially from the hard-hit barrier islands.

“People left animals behind or animals wandered away during the storm,” said Lynne Richmond, public information officer for the Department of Agriculture.

“People can call the hotline and [report] the last place they saw their pets or the address of the home they believe the animal is in,” she said, “and local animal rescue authorities will try reuniting pets and owners.”

The hotline went into service Friday and received 30 calls in the first three hours.

“We alerted all veterinarians in New Jersey by memo to get the word out about the pet rescue hot line,” Richmond said.

“We’ve had many calls about donations for pet food, blankets and other pet items,” she added. “We’ve received a nice outpouring from the community for pets and people.”

Chilly Business Climate

Cash flow undoubtedly suffered in some areas.

“Business declined dramatically this last week; there were lots of trees down and public transit wasn’t working,” said Shawn Faison, a veterinarian technician at Brooklyn’s Bath Animal Hospital.

He estimated that the clinic saw a storm-related drop in business of 70 to 80 percent.

“I expect it will be another three weeks or a month before it is back to normal,” he added.

Bath Animal Hospital had five employees before the storm struck, but because of the damage on Coney Island, where everyone but Faison lives, he is pretty much operating a one-man show for now.

“I hope business picks up again soon,” he said.

Donations Flooding In

In times of disaster, Americans tend to donate money, supplies and the sweat of their brow to help disaster victims get back on their feet. Companies often pitch in as well.

Del Monte Foods of San Francisco announced Monday that it will donate 146 tons of canned food and soup as well as a variety of cat and dog foods, including Kibbles ‘n Bits and Meow Mix, to Feeding America and the ASPCA.

“Our thoughts are with those affected by this devastating storm,” said Dave West, CEO of Del Monte Foods. “Millions of people—and pets—have been displaced from their homes and can benefit from a wholesome and nutritious meal. We commend Feeding America and the ASPCA for their tireless work and hope that Del Monte’s donation will help them in their efforts to provide relief.”

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