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Wildfire-weary colleagues down under need our help

imagecznfp.png(Wildfires scourge the Australian coastal town of Batemans Bay; photo courtesy of Tara Cashman)

At least 25 people and more than one billion animals are dead, according to one estimate.

The numbers generated by the wildfires ravaging Australia are horrifying, and they keep getting worse.

To find out how the fires are impacting veterinarians, NEWStat spoke to Tara Cashman, BVSc, DipVetClinStud, MANZCVS (Dentistry), co-owner of Eurocoast Veterinary Centre in Batemans Bay, a coastal town about 215 miles south of Sydney. She told NEWStat that her family was roused from sleep on New Year’s Eve by emergency phone and text messages warning them to evacuate immediately and head for the beach.

“Our bushfire evacuation plan was always to leave early, so we packed our three children, dog, and three cats into the car and travelled to nearby sporting fields near the beachfront,” Cashman said. “Two of the cats were patients in the veterinary clinic, including one with a broken leg.”

For several hours, Cashman, her family, and the town’s 20,000 residents watched from the beach as fire ravaged their town. “Helicopters were flying repeatedly overhead with buckets of water as the sky went gray, then red, and then by midday, it went black,” she said.

Within hours, they witnessed more than 350 homes and nearly 1,000 outbuildings destroyed, leaving nearly 2,000 of their friends, neighbors, patients, and clients homeless.

Cashman and her partner snuck back home later that night, expecting to have lost everything—many people had. “Amazingly, the hospital and our adjacent home were spared major damage,” she said. “Our sheds, fences, and garden weren’t so lucky.”

However, Cashman notes that just because the building still stood didn’t mean they had a fully functioning hospital. “After 17 days, we still have no electricity. All of our refrigerated medications and pathology tests were lost—including snake and tick antivenoms and vaccines. There’s no lighting or hot water.” Cashman managed to reopen the hospital on a limited basis last week with the aid of a portable generator. For three hours a day, they offer simple veterinary consultations.

They’re also offering free veterinary care for those who have lost their homes.

“It’s good to be able to give something back to our devastated community,” Cashman said, noting that what goes around comes around: “We have been supported ourselves by our colleagues through the Australian Veterinary Association’s Benevolent Fund (AVABF), which exists to support veterinarians in need.”

You can help the AVABF aid colleagues like Cashman by donating.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) will match donations up to $50,000, and the American Veterinary Medical Association is donating $25,000.

Both donations will go to the AVABF to provide financial assistance to veterinarians like Cashman who’ve provided free care for impacted animals or who’ve lost their own property due to the fire.

To help, visit the AVMF website and apply your donation to “Disaster Relief—AVA Benevolent Fund.”