Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Animal Rescue Training in Nicaragua

By Bill McKee

Murrow College Backpack Journalism Project Read more from Bill on his Backpack Journalism blog.
Along the banks of Laguna de Apoyo, a lake formed in the crater of a dormant volcano in Nicaragua, an unlikely group has gathered – veterinarians, rescue experts and volunteers preparing for disasters. When big storms like Sandy or Katrina strike, causing destruction and mayhem, people are not the only ones who need rescuing.  Pets and livestock are also at risk.

Rescue specialist Kim Little normally trains firemen, police and rescue response teams on what to do in the event of disaster.  But this week Little is some 3,000 miles away in Central America, teaching technical animal rescue. “This class was designed to help animal rescue (workers) get the skill level to work with (human) rescuers, and (to give human) rescue people the knowledge to be able to work with the animals without being harmed,” said Little. Little has been running a rescue training business out of Billings, Mont., since 1982.  He grew up in Colfax on the Palouse in eastern Washington and says he draws on his outdoor experiences river-rafting and climbing to develop his training program.
Volunteers prep for the pulley.
“I’m here to help train people from the United States who wanted to come down to learn and possibly be volunteers for World Vets when a disaster strikes.  But I’m also here to train local people, because even with a World Vets response, it’s going to be 24 to 48 hours before they’re going to be there,” Little said. Little is running the program for World Vets, a non-profit organization that designs international veterinary and disaster relief programs to help animals worldwide.  It has built clinics around the world and provides surgical training and practical experience to veterinarians and students, both abroad and from the U.S. With Little’s help, World Vets has developed this program, north of Granada in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, to address a missing element in disaster relief – hands-on technical training for animal rescuers.

For Kansas State University veterinary student Laura Schurr, the training is an opportunity to go beyond the standard care she learns in class lectures. “After seeing all the destruction in Haiti, I remember watching on TV after the earthquake, I knew that was a place where I could be of help,” Schurr said. The group spent a day in class learning the basics – the organizational structure of a rescue team, how to read animals and approach a rescue situation, and basic knots used in rescue operations.  The next few days were spent out on the lake, putting those classroom exercises to the test.  The group practiced rope rescues on water and on land, basic boat rescue techniques, and learned to devise safe and effective pulley systems for harnessing and raising injured people and animals to safety from below.
Rope tying is demostrated to volunteers.
Graduates of the course are certified at a level higher than that required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for animal rescue, and their names will be added to a database of potential disaster relief volunteers to be called on in case of an international disaster. The rescue training is just a small part of the mission in Nicaragua, however. World Vets is about to open its second clinic in the city of Granada – a training center for both foreign and local veterinarians. Dr. Sarah Seitz is a World Vets veterinarian working to develop the clinic.  A recent graduate of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Seitz says the programs that World Vets offers provide a unique opportunity for veterinarians and students who hope to brush up on their skills.

“It’s a good place for them to come practice surgery in a low-stress environment.  They get one-on-one training, which is really important.  In most vet schools around the world, that is not available,” said Seitz. At the center in Granada, World Vets provides Latin American veterinarians and students with free surgical training, while international students can enroll in programs that allow them to work with experienced professionals in a modern surgical center – an opportunity many institutions lack.
Veterinarians and students
receive free surgical training.
The center in Granada provides free health care, including spays and neuters, for the animals of local residents, as well as strays.  Locals get valuable help for their pets, while students get practical clinical experience. With surgical centers and rescue operation programs across the globe, World Vets works to increase the standard for animal care worldwide, providing vets and volunteers the opportunity to learn under ideal conditions, while still preparing for inevitable disaster.