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Veterinary Medicine

CSU veterinary student helps make 'no pets left behind' a reality during Colorado flooding

October 2, 2013
By Rachel Griess

Emergency responders who evacuated Colorado residents from devastating flooding in September adopted the mantra 'no pets left behind,' and at least one Colorado State University veterinary student was part of the effort to aid critters along with people.

CSU veterinary student Abby Patterson helped with evacuated pets during Colorado flooding.Abby Patterson, a third-year CSU veterinary student, was learning about shelter medicine with the Larimer Humane Society when the floods hit. The northern Colorado agency teamed with the Colorado Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps to assess pets and their needs as evacuation helicopters landed at CSU’s Christman Field on the university’s Foothills Campus.

“As people and pets exited the helicopters, pet triage was the first tent they approached,” Patterson said. “We didn’t let one animal past us without an examination and made sure each animal was handled with care as it boarded a bus to a temporary shelter.”

Trained in disaster planning

Coincidentally, Patterson has trained in disaster planning with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is developing a comprehensive disaster plan for Larimer Humane Society for her master’s thesis in public health.

“I love the fast-paced and rewarding nature of working in disaster relief,” Patterson said. “It keeps me on my toes, and it’s heartwarming to see the incredible power of the human-animal bond during crisis. As the National Guard rescued people from their homes, the evacuees not only made sure to bring their own pets, but many people brought their neighbors’ pets as well.”

CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, as it did during the High Park Fire of summer 2012, offered to provide shelter for evacuated pets when Larimer Humane Society reached capacity. But many families, knowing they might be displaced for an extended time, made arrangements to keep their pets with them.

On the spot

Emergency responders were committed to rescuing pets along with people during the historic floods. Photo courtesy of Colorado National Guard.Timberline Church in Fort Collins became a staging area for rescued pets as their owners made plans and arranged transportation. Patterson was again on the spot.

And her training was evident: Patterson helped coordinate animals, families and pet-care needs. She wanted to make sure each animal was comfortable during the stressful transition.

“I love shelter medicine, and I could see myself working in a similar career after graduation,” Patterson said. “I have a passion to help animals that don’t have anyone to help them.”

Her motivation

“During times of disaster, people and animals need all the help they can get,” Patterson said. “It’s just something I wanted to do. If I can help, then there’s no reason not to.”

By the numbers

Thousands of Coloradans evacuated during the flash flooding of September 2013. Those rescued by helicopter were flown to a number of airports and landing pads, including Christman Field on CSU’s Foothills Campus. Numbers from the Colorado Office of Emergency Management tell the story:

  • 20 Colorado counties were affected
  • Eight people died in the flooding, with one more presumed dead
  • More than 20,000 households have requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Damage to roads and bridges is estimated at $475 million
  • To help employees, students, and retirees coping with flood damage, the university has created a fund called CSUCares. Donations are provided to people in the CSU community who need assistance. For more information, visit the CSUCares website.