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Working alongside emergency workers at the World Trade Center disaster site in New York are a vital part of every search and rescue team: dogs specially trained to find people trapped in the rubble.
As many as 300 rescue dogs are at the site, coming from the New York region's rescue squads and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
On-site are 13 veterinarians (the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team) to help these canine heroes who are suffering from some of the same problems as their human counterparts: fatigue, cuts, smoke and dust inhalation, and eye irritation.
"Search and rescue dogs perform an invaluable service alongside our workers, and it is important that they be carefully and correctly cared for," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "The VMAT team is trained to give emergency-level attention to these dogs, so that they can do the very difficult and long-term work we need them to do."
Like Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) and Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORTs), these VMATs are part of the National Disaster Medical System, led by HHS. In all, four VMATs have been assembled across the country to be called as needed in emergencies to provide extra resources in disasters and to relieve local resources.
In the New York disaster, FEMA so far has called for deployment of one of these teams.
Providing round-the-clock veterinary care from a staging area at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the VMAT team is working in 12-hour shifts in a mobile trailer "MASH" facility about three blocks from "ground zero." This site includes X-ray and anesthesia facilities.
In addition, VMAT personnel are also at "ground zero" providing emergency care when needed. Dogs needing extensive treatment are sent to New York's Animal Medical Center.
"These dogs are being pushed hard, and we need to be attentive to their needs to keep them healthy and on the job," said VMAT team leader Dr. Barry Kellogg, a veterinarian who has practiced 35 years in Massachusetts and Florida. "They deliver for us, and we need to keep them in good health."
Several injuries have been reported, but so far no dogs have died in the search and rescue effort. Typical injuries have included lacerations, smoke and dust inhalation, eye irritation, torn nails and foot injuries, dehydration and exhaustion.
Dogs serving at the site are primarily German Shepherds, but also include Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and mixed breeds.
VMAT support is expected to remain in New York as long as search and rescue dogs are being used. In the Oklahoma City bombing, dogs were used for two weeks. The New York disaster is many times larger in scale than the Oklahoma incident.
More information about the veterinary assistance being provided at the New York City disaster site is available on the VMAT web page at http://www.avma.org/vmat/default.asp, as well as on the Suffolk County (NY) SPCA web page at http://www.suffolkspca.org/. The Suffolk County SPCA is volunteering their mobile veterinary medical unit, one of only three in the country, to assist the VMAT team in New York City.
U.S. Government Website