|Fidos Help at Ground Zero|
|To say that a dog is a man’s or a woman’s best friend would be an understatement during this time of great need. In the wake of the terror that struck New York and Washington, some three hundred search and rescue dogs are at the site of the World Trade Center in New York to help their human partners find the missing and dead. The dogs include German Shepherds, Labs Golden Retrievers, Belgian Malinois, Bloodhounds, Rottweilers and mixed breeds as well. The work is not only physically difficult, but dangerous for these canines. And just like their handlers and other rescue workers, many of the dogs suffered injuries such as leg abrasions, eye irritations, dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Many animal clinics, hospitals and organizations from New York and other areas pulled together, donating supplies and offering much needed help. Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) was chief among them. Dr. Barbara Kalvig, the Medical Director of VCA/ New York Veterinary Hospital at 150 East 74th Street (Lexington Avenue) was one of the first on the scene to offer aid. It began with people, not dogs in mind. She with colleague Dr. James M. Shorter and two technicians from the hospital rushed to the scene on September 11th, carrying medical supplies as part of a spontaneous effort to get a triage site up and running for survivors. As we all know now, sadly, there were few people rescued. But Dr. Kalvig’s efforts were not in vain.
"At one point late that afternoon, a FEMA rescue worker with one of his dogs came over and wanted us to help the dog", Dr. Kalvig said. "We took the supplies that we had gathered and changed them to what would be appropriate for dogs with injuries we might see." They also went back to the hospital to gather more medical supplies and eventually, joined forces with other veterinary efforts being set up by the Animal Medical Center and the Suffolk County SPCA. Kalvig recalls, "While we were organizing our medical supplies from human to canine emphasis, Dr. Shorter and one of our technicians were given a sirened DEA escort back to NY Vet to collect injectable drugs which may be needed such as tranquilizers, antibiotic, emergency and pain medications." Dr. Kalvig ended up being asked to coordinate scheduling and supply efforts and to this day, from New York Veterinary Hospital,is operating a central location for scheduling voluntary 24-hour veterinary care at ground zero.
The veterinarians work 12-hour shifts, from 11am to 11pm and from 11pm to 11am. At all times, three private vets are on the scene along with two from VMAT, Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams that work with the government in times of crisis. They are part of the National Disaster Medical System, led by HHS.
As time went on, the dogs became more agitated because they are trained to find bodies and that wasn’t happening. Kalvig says that causes a lot of stress. The handlers are trying to help. She says, "One of the things they do is to have someone wrap up in a blanket so the dog can find a person."
The rescue dogs could be on the scene for another three months. Once the operation shifts primary to recovery and not rescue, there will be fewer dogs there, and the demands for veterinary care will also lessen. For Kalvig and the other doctors, "Its been draining, but there was no other choice. We went and we did." Now that she has a moment to reflect, Kalvig says "the doctors, nurses, medics, all of these people that mobilized and people from the street that mobilized… it was really quite amazing. If there’s any good that comes out of all of this, it is seeing that in a time of crisis everybody pulls together."