Penn Vet symposium talks animal disaster care

Stranded Dogs

Dogs stranded on a roof during heavy floods. Tens of thousands of pets were left behind in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

When disaster strikes, people often want to help, but don’t know how. When the victims in a catastrophe include animals, which often can’t help themselves, the approaches to intervention are unique.

To share information about the best strategies to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA), in collaboration with the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team—the animal-oriented counterpart to the Red Cross—is hosting an Emergency and Disaster Relief Symposium on Saturday, Feb. 8, and Sunday, Feb. 9, at Hill Pavilion, 380 South University Ave. The conference is open to vet students, members of the Penn community, and the general public.

The symposium will feature lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on training, all aimed at helping participants handle a range of emergencies, from a pet coming in contact with a toxic substance, to animals affected by a disaster such as an oil spill or a hurricane.

Jeremy Kimmelstiel, president of SCAVMA and a second-year student at Penn Vet, says the group was given a $7,000 grant from its parent organization to organize an activity at the Vet School.

“I really pushed the rest of my board to think up something creative and new that would be an asset to the school and the community,” he says.

Second-year Penn Vet student and SCAVMA vice president Kelly Giffear, a lead organizer of the conference, says there was a clear interest in emergency response among her fellow classmates, and among animal lovers in general.

“I know there is an appeal,” she says. “After [Hurricane] Katrina, we saw the pictures of dogs running free in the streets and not having anywhere to go. I think anyone who has an animal at home would feel for them.”

Penn Vet Red Paw

Katherine Unger Baillie

Penn Vet students Jeremy Kimmelstiel, Kelly Giffear, and Jasmine Lee.

The symposium will have concurrent sessions so participants can select lectures and demonstrations that suit their interests and backgrounds, including seminars about cats, dogs, equines, and wildlife. Lectures and demonstrations will cover topics including how to ensure biosecurity in a disaster, who to contact to respond appropriately, how to perform basic first aid on a pet, and how to catch an unfamiliar animal in need of help and assess its health.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to learn animal CPR, become a certified oil spill responder, observe a pet dialysis simulation, and see a canine from the Penn Vet Working Dog Center perform a search-and-rescue procedure.

Jasmine Lee, also a second-year Penn Vet student and SCAVMA development chair, says the conference will have information for a wide audience.

“The symposium should attract not only vet students, but anyone who can connect to the idea of helping people and animals in need,” she says. “Our hope is to give people the tools and knowledge to know how to help.”

The conference registration fee is $5 for SCAVMA members and $15 for the general public.

To register, visit

For more information, visit the conference website.

Originally published on January 30, 2014