Emergency vet: Local doctor helped animals hit by Sandy

Emergency vet: Local doctor helped animals hit by Sandy

December 6th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Dr. John Mullins checks out a pregnant Chihuahua named Chloe in the Animal Care Center of Ooltewah.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

ABOUT HIM

Name: John Mullins.

Age: 58.

Hometown: Winchester, Tenn.

Occupation: Veterinarian and founder of The Animal Care Center of Ooltewah.

Education: Bachelor of science degree from University of the South and doctorate of veterinary medicine from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

NO PET LEFT BEHIND

Following the abandonment of animals after the evacuation of areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006. It requires that states seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after disasters must provide for the assistance of pets and service animals as part of their evacuation plan.

In the days after Hurricane Sandy ripped across the East Coast, Ooltewah veterinarian Dr. John Mullins was on the phone with a fellow vet on Long Island.

"He said it was cold and miserable and people were really suffering," says Mullins, owner of The Animal Care Center of Ooltewah. "He said they just really needed help and, when somebody asks for help, what makes the system work is if we go and help them."

So he did.

Mullins, 58, is a member of the National Veterinary Response Team, a federal program of about 200 private veterinarians who are called in to provide care for animals affected by disasters. After local resources were exhausted by recovery efforts, Mullins was one of nine response team veterinarians deployed on Nov. 13 to assist sick and injured animals near New York City.

Faced with the Hurricane Sandy bearing down on them, hundreds of thousands left behind their homes to evacuate, but many refused to abandon their pets and stayed. In the storm's aftermath, veterinary clinics were without power like everyone else, unable to treat the animals whose lives, like their owners', were left in tatters.

For two weeks, Mullins and Laurie McCarter, 35, a veterinary tech from Amesbury, Mass., worked out of a mobile clinic in the Rockaways near the borough of Queens, and later in Coney Island.

"Veterinarians are pretty good at being adaptable," Mullins says. "[The mobile clinic] was a little smaller than I'm used to, but it's better than standing outside and freezing."

Despite the cramped quarters, the clinic was equipped with a mini surgical suite, mobile X-ray unit and a pharmacy. During their stay, McCarter and Mullins treated about 120 animals, most with minor ailments such as skin conditions, eye ulcers from debris and diarrhea.

The patients weren't just of the four-legged variety. Because some roads were unpassable, owners brought their pets in by foot, and they often benefited as much as their animals from the treatment, McCarter says.

"We heard a lot of stories about what the owners of the pets were dealing with," she says. "They need to talk to someone. It's a relief to focus on the pets as opposed to their house or other things."

On Nov. 25, Stacey Hodes Nagel of Belle Harbor, N.Y., posted her thanks to Mullins on Facebook for making a house call to treat her dog Roxy, who had an ulcer on her cornea.

"[We] went back to see him today, and she's 99 percent cured," Nagel wrote. "Thank you so much. God bless you for coming here to help."

Because of widespread power outages after Sandy, treating animals meant facing 12-hour shifts with only the heater in their converted ambulance to keep warm, he says. But part of the job, he says, is learning to be resourceful, a skill he began honing in the West African country of Burkina Faso, where he spent two years treating livestock. From 1981 to 1983, he lived in a mud-brick house under a thatched roof, which felt "like working on a different planet," but it taught him to make the best with the available resources, he says.

As a member of the National Veterinary Response Team, Mullins has had plenty of experience dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes. In 2004, he was deployed to Florida to assist with the recovery after Hurricane Charley. The next year, he spent six weeks in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, working almost exclusively in the humid late-summer heat of the Deep South without air conditioning.

Even after the long days and the emotional toll of assisting with relief efforts post-Sandy, Mullins says any discomfort he felt pales in the face of bringing relief to people like Nagel and the pets they love.

"I would do it all over again," he says. "In the same circumstances, even knowing what I know now, I would jump on it."