MANILA, Philippines?The devotion that some people lavish on their equally loyal pet animals comes to the fore during disasters, according to an American veterinarian who has been running an animal hospital with round-the-clock emergency coverage for 35 years.
Barry N. Kellogg has been witness to such occasions, including Superhurricane ?Katrina,? which wreaked havoc in New Orleans in 2005.
Kellogg, who was among those who organized a rescue response team in Katrina?s wake, said many New Orleans residents drowned because they refused to leave their dogs behind.
?They wouldn?t evacuate before the storm. They wouldn?t go to the shelter because they couldn?t bring their animals. So they stayed in their houses, and the waters came, and they drowned. So we have to be ready for disasters and take care of the animals,? he said.
Kellogg, 65, a senior veterinary advisor of the Humane Society International (HSI), was also among the leaders of the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team honored by the American Veterinary Medical Association for aiding in the search-and-rescue and recovery efforts at ?Ground Zero? after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Along with Dave Pauli, 52, regional director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Kellogg has been conducting training sessions for Filipino veterinarians, rescue volunteers and animal control officers.
The sessions involve emergency preparedness, humane handling of stray animals, and quick spaying and neutering (a simple surgical process that ?disables? the reproductive organs of female and male animals).
Kellogg recalled how his rescue team plucked stranded pets from the flooded houses in New Orleans.
He said the team was not fully prepared and was forced to transport the animals in a closed truck to the surrounding cities, hopefully to be reunited with their owners. But the temperature then was 130 degrees, and all the animals in the truck soon died from the heat.
?We want to see Filipinos make [disaster preparedness] plans that include animals so that you don?t experience that kind of situation,? Kellogg said during a recent seminar in Makati City.
Mona Consunji of the Philippine-based Animal Welfare Coalition (AWC) agreed, saying that if there were international disaster preparedness plans for humans, local animal welfare groups should have one for animals, too.
The training sessions are being organized by the AWC together with the Department of Agriculture?s Bureau of Animal Industry (DA-BAI), the HSUS/HSI, the Provincial, City and Municipal Veterinarians League of the Philippines, and Merial Philippines.
Sessions were conducted at the Makati Park and Garden on April 30 and at the DA-BAI on May 2 and 3. The next sessions are scheduled at the Aklan State University on May 11 to 21 and at the Central Luzon State University on May 22.
At the training sessions, Pauli?who has led animal rescue teams in large disaster areas like the Red River floods of North Dakota/Minnesota and cities ravaged by Hurricanes ?Opal,? ?Ivan,? ?Charlie,? ?Rita? and ?Katrina??demonstrates alternative ?stray catching? techniques developed during his 28-year experience in rescuing wild and domestic animals.
One of Pauli?s more notable animal containment exploits involved 26 African lions on the loose in Ligertown, Idaho, more than 10 years ago.
His concept revolves on the principle of using the least amount of restraint so as to lessen the stress on both animals and human handlers.
?You have to invest time [in capturing stray animals]. It?s not about dominance; it?s about interaction [with them],? he said.
Pauli said with a smile that his rescue work with raccoons stuck in chimneys, bats trapped in attics, and woodpeckers rattling on houses had allowed him to put himself through college.
He has devised ingenious methods for homeowners who wanted to get rid of unwanted guests but did not want the creatures hurt in the eviction process.
He managed to pest-proof houses without using pesticides and developed trapping techniques that did not frazzle the animals more than what was necessary.
?Most pest control companies would spray [poison] on the bats. That?s much easier, but it doesn?t solve the problem,? Pauli said.
Save, not kill
The HSUS/HSI emphasizes the importance of spaying and neutering because the procedure constitutes a critical part of the animal control program, which aims to decrease the number of stray and unwanted pets, Kellogg said.
Fewer stray animals mean fewer animals to find foster homes for, and, hopefully, a smaller number of animals to be euthanized, he said.
When Kellogg administers the fatal cocktail of drugs to an unclaimed or diseased pet, he cannot help but look into the animal?s eyes?and the sadness there makes him weep.
One would think that after all these years, he would be numb to all that suffering by now. But no, he said, the pain of putting an animal to sleep was still and always ?heart wrenching.?
?I became a veterinarian to save animals, not to kill them,? Kellogg said. ?When I have to put them to sleep because there?s no home for them or they?ve been hit by a car, it bothers me a lot.?
Spaying and neutering can also prevent ?compassion fatigue? among animal handlers and veterinarians, Kellogg said. Compassion fatigue occurs when there are just too many stray and unwanted animals to look out for, he said, adding that those who work in slaughterhouses suffered from such a condition.
There is no exact figure of the total pet population in the Philippines, AWC?s Consunji said. But she cited a global estimate of 10 percent of the total human population?meaning about 8 to 9 million pets in the country at any given time.
Without spaying or neutering, a dog is capable of producing about 70,000 offspring during its lifetime ?by having a litter, and each member of the litter having its own litter, and so on and so forth,? Kellogg said.
A female cat, her mate and all of their offspring, producing two litters a year, with 2.8 surviving kittens in a litter, can produce a generation numbering 11.6 million in 9 years, he said.
Kellogg and the rest of the HSUS call this pet family tree a ?population pyramid.?
According to Consunji, spaying and neutering decrease the risk of both the pet and the owner/handler contracting certain deadly diseases.
For example, spaying and neutering have been known to decrease the incidence of cancer among pets, as well as rabies brought by stray and poorly cared for animals.
The stray animal population can very well provide the link between the existence of rabies in the wild and rabies among humans, the HSUS/HSI said.
Also, Kellogg said, animals that have been ?fixed? do not look for a mate anymore. ?So they don?t run out into the streets and get hit by a car,? he said.
The cost of spaying and neutering varies widely?from about P400 in agencies such as the Philippine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to about P15,000 in private veterinary clinics.
Pauli said that in places where pet owners could not afford the procedures, the community shared the cost.
?We have programs where veterinarians donate to pay a third [of the cost] and the pet owner pays another third so that we spread the cost out. The veterinarians can also write off the donations as tax-exempt,? he said.
Consunji said the AWC and DA-BAI had yet to determine the final cost of its own spay-neuter campaign.