AAHA hospitals hunker down for Irma

Hurricane Irma was downgraded Friday from a Category 5 storm to a Category 4, but that’s small comfort to the millions people living with their pets in its projected path. Irma is expected to hit landfall in southern Florida on Sunday morning.

One small saving grace—as Irma churned its way landward, veterinary professionals in its path have had a few days to prepare.

AAHA-accredited Knowles Central Animal Clinic in Miami, Florida is a 24-hour animal clinic and as of Thursday evening they were committed to keeping regular business hours right through the hurricane. David Bialsk, DVM and Knowles’ Managing Director said, “We’re going to be open and we’re going to be serving the community.” Bialski says they’re taking precautions; They have enough supplies laid in to survive a storm-related siege, and they’ve got a generator if the power goes out.

They also have a full house. Bialski says they’re boarding 90 animals for clients who had to evacuate. “We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We can’t leave. A lot of people depend on us when there’s a hurricane.” Bialski knows the drill. “We were open during Andrew,” he says, referring to the monster hurricane that slammed Florida in 1992, causing $26.5 billion in damages.

At AAHA-accredited Westbird Animal Hospital in Miami, technician Sy Urdaneta says they planned to be open Friday. And they’re normally open Saturday, but not this Saturday. “Depending on the weather, we’ll be open Monday.” Urdaneta says they’re prepared in case they got caught short by Irma. “We’ve got ice, water, sandbags.” He says the weather Thursday night was bright and sunny, but, “It’s basically the calm before the storm.

A call to AAHA-accredited South Kendall Animal Hospital in Miami revealed an answering machine message stating, “The office is currently closed due to the hurricane.” A post on their Facebook page said, “Our hospital will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday 9/6. We will let our clients know when we are able to reopen based on the impact of Hurricane Irma. We'll also provide as much information as we can regarding emergency care for your pets. Please stay safe!”

One AAAH-Accredited hospital in Miami was open Thursday but so busy that no one was available to talk about hurricane contingency plans. A harried receptionist said, “Right now we’re playing it by ear,” and hurriedly excused herself.

AAHA-accredited My Pet’s Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida is farther outside of Irma’s projected path than Miami, but technician Amanda Downey said the hospital planned to be open during regular business hours the rest of this week, although they would closed Monday for the storm. Some of the staff plan to show up Monday anyway—All Pet’s has offered to take board first responder’s pets while the first responders clean up after Irma. That way first responders can focus on helping people instead of worrying about rushing home to feed their pets, “because the pets will have a safe place to be,” Downey says.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of agriculture and consumer Services, Division of Animal Industry, announced a temporary suspension of the legal requirements for transportation of animals outside the area of Irma’s projected path, including out of state.

That’s good news for people like Judy Baum, CVT and practice manager at the AAHA-accredited Metzler Veterinary Hospital in Clearwater, Florida. Baum is also an experienced first responder with the Bay Area Disaster Animal Response Team (DART).

When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Baum was on the road from Florida to North Carolina, leading a parade of three horse trailers bearing her six horses. She says was using up some vacation time to evacuate the horses from her farm outside of Lakeland to board them at a friend’s farm in North Carolina. Baum says Metzler will probably stay open Friday, then turn off the power over the weekend and wait to reopen next week after they have a chance to assess the post-Irma landscape. Baum herself expects to be back in Lakeland in plenty of time to pitch in with other animal first responders to take care of any animals that need help in Irma’s wake.  She says some emergency response teams are already staging. “They’re gearing up to go in and set up shelters, and evacuate animals from elderly person’s homes.” But Baum stresses that at this point, no one know exactly what’s going to happen once Irma has her way. “Who knows? Irma is the size of Florida. It’s still uncertain.”

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