CORVALLIS, Ore. - Two Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine students are traveling to Hattiesburg, Miss., to assist in animal rescue efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Lisa Williams and Jodi Collins, who will both enter their third year in the college's professional degree program this fall, plan to arrive in Mississippi by Monday morning (Sept. 19).
"We plan to help out at the shelter there for four or five days," said Collins. The pair will then drive back to Oregon in time for the start of OSU's fall term on Sept. 26. In addition to the student aid, their college is also helping relief efforts, said Howard Gelberg, dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
"The OSU College of Veterinary Medicine is participating in the animal relief efforts through the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges," Gelberg said. "All the accredited schools of veterinary medicine are members and there is a collective effort to help the schools of veterinary medicine in Louisiana and Mississippi in their animal rescue work. The American Veterinary Medical Association is also contributing to relief efforts."
More than 800 animals have passed through the Hattiesburg shelter since Sept. 1; about 500 are there now.
The decision to go to the Gulf came quickly, Williams said. On Thursday, a friend passed her a Humane Society of the United States newsletter. Curious, Williams investigated the society website and found a phone number for people wanting to help in relief efforts.
"I called the number, not expecting anyone to answer, but this guy did answer," she said. "He was Dr. Eric Davis, director of the society's Rural Area Veterinary Services. He said, 'We need people in Hattiesburg really bad.' Then it all happened really fast - we were headed for Hattiesburg."
Williams remembered her fellow student Collins had spent much of the summer doing veterinary work in Florida and was in Pell City, Ala., this week visiting family. "Lisa called me here in Alabama and told me about this," Collins said. "And, I'm only about 3½ hours from Hattiesburg, so I told her to fly to Birmingham and I'd pick her up and then we could drive down to Hattiesburg together."
Pell City, in northern Alabama, escaped hurricane damage, but many relatives and friends have been traveling to the disaster area, Collins said.
"My uncle's an engineer, and he's traveled down to the Gulf to help out, and when he came back he said, 'It's like nothing you've ever seen.' Whole cities destroyed, there's nothing left.
"I'm so glad we'll be going down there, getting a chance to help out and do something for the animals," Collins said.
The women are taking a tent, sleeping bags, insect repellent, as well as a supply of water and military surplus meals.
"They also told us to bring cash, because the automated teller machines won't be working and there probably won't be any electricity, anyway."
The OSU students aren't sure what type of work they'll be doing in Mississippi.
"What they really need, if there are lots of animals living in a very close facility, are people who are experienced in handling a variety of animals to walk them, feed them, love them - just provide basic care," Williams said.
"Because of our training in the College of Veterinary Medicine, we understand how to handle sick animals, timid animals, aggressive animals and that is the kind of experience needed," Williams added. "I'm imagining that most of the animals will be scared and dehydrated. Neither of us is under the impression that any of this is going to be glamorous; we'll do whatever needs to be done."
"We're not licensed veterinarians and we won't being doing anything like major surgery," Collins said, "but we may be doing animal restraints, attending to hygiene issues, offering first-aid and minor wound care. There also may be a variety of wildlife to care for at the shelter.
"I think like everyone, we've been wanting to do something, and now we are," Collins said.
Neither of the woman mind paying their own way, and instead say their efforts are just a way of helping in a time of tragedy.
Williams' flight leaves Portland at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.
"This is all very last minute. It's just amazing that it worked out that Jodi is already there and things fell into place. Sure, it's expensive, but if we have the means to get there and we can really be of help, how can we not make the effort to go and give the animals all the help and love that we can offer?"
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Patrick Kamins, 541-737-2098