In June I took a certification class in Pet First Aid with Karen Sable of Pet Emergency Training, LLC; I had also written a press release about the class for Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation, the host of the class, so I’d interviewed Karen. I was so impressed with her knowledge and experience that I recently asked her if she’d write a monthly column for me on timely topics concerning pet first aid and disaster preparedness for our pets.
But we almost missed the first column for a disaster! She was on call for deployment during the days we watched Hurricane Irene roll up the coast, but thankfully did not have to leave.
Karen’s first column will publish this Friday on the very timely topic of disaster preparedness, and the first Friday of every month thereafter, with perhaps a story from the field in between.
Certifications and affiliations
Karen is the founder and owner of Pet Emergency Training, LLC, and both teaches the full spectrum of pet first aid and is on call for deployment with several national and local rescue response organizations who arrive after disasters to set up rescue shelters for animals.
Karen holds a Veterinary Assistant diploma, and her training certifications include Emergency Animal Sheltering, Large Animal Rescue, Animals in Disaster, Livestock in Disaster, Hazardous Materials, Incident Command and National Incident Management.
She completed the Pet Tech Instructor program in March, 2011, and is a trained responder with several national animal response/rescue teams, including American Humane’s Red Star Animal Emergency Services Team, United Animal Nations’ Emergency Animal Rescue Service, and Noah’s Wish Disaster Response Team.
She is also a member of the PA/Allegheny County Animal Response Team and Westmoreland County Animal Response Team, and is a volunteer animal rescue transporter.
Before animal rescue
Prior to Karen’s current career in animal rescue, she did something else entirely, though it was still in a helping profession. She spent 25 years as the Human Resources Director at Mayview State Hospital in Bridgeville, PA.
“I don’t know why I didn’t go into animal medicine, but I started out in pre-med, and was bored out of my mind, I just wanted to skip all the boring stuff and go right into surgery—at 17 in college, how do you know what you want to do with your life?” she said. She studied labor relations and attended the University of Pittsburgh for graduate school in Human Resources, and began her career in Harrisburg working with labor relations, eventually moving on to her position at Mayview.
“But ever since I was a little kid I’ve always had a thing for animals—I was the kid who brought all the strays home,” she remarked. “My mom raised canaries, and she was the woman in the neighborhood to whom all the neighbors brought their sick animals. I remember using a toothpick to splint the leg on a canary,” Karen recalled.
While in her position as Human Resources Director, Karen decided she wanted to begin a career change and finished two full semesters in veterinary technician training.
Next, she needed to complete a 200 hour clinical practicum to graduate, but Mayview State Hospital was closing, a long and complicated process in which the Human Resources Director plays a big part as departments are closed and union and non-union employees are released. She and her department were putting in 10 and 12 hour workdays, coming in on weekends.
“That made it impossible to put in 25 hours a week in a practicum, and you have to do it within a certain period of time,” she explained.
Once things calmed down moved over to veterinary assistant training and graduated with her certification.
Then came Hurricane Katrina
While she had begun her training in animal medicine a few years before the event, “I got involved in disaster response watching Hurricane Katrina, seeing animals on rooftops, knowing people had to leave them behind and that many of them would die without help,” Karen explained. “I decided that the next time something like that happened I wanted to be a part of it.”
Hurricane Katrina changed the way disasters are handled for both people and animals, Karen noted.
“That was the first time anyone realized that people wouldn’t leave without their animals, and if they didn’t do something for the animals they’d be rescuing a lot of people who decided to stay behind,” she said. “And it was truly a wonderful thing that so many people just went to New Orleans and did what they could, but we learned that the effort needed to be organized.”
While the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was passed to set standards for human disaster relief, the PETS Act amends that legislation “to ensure that State and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.” It also “authorizes FEMA to provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals, and to the household pets and animals themselves following a major disaster or emergency.”
This was an immense change in the way our society considered animals, especially domestic pets, and it also led to basic standards for organizations who specialized in assistance for animals after a disaster. Some organizations had always been there, ready to deploy to disaster sites, such as the American Humane Association and Humane Society of the United States. New organizations formed, such as Noah’s Wish created in direct response to Hurricane Katrina, and basic standards for training were set so that rescuers could travel with any of the organizations and know the procedures.
In order to comply with the PETS Act, states and municipalities form an agreement with one or more of the rescue organizations so that they can call on them at the time of a disaster. Trained individuals become affiliated with one or more groups and are on call to be deployed if needed during an emergency.
Deployments so far, disasters and rescues
“I set up with Allegheny Response Team during the flooding in Pittsburgh in 2004 and I spent a few days recently in Arkansas after the tornadoes there,” Karen said. “The organizations set up the shelter and I provided first aid and care to the animals in the shelter.”
But deployments are not always around disasters—often they are rescues as well.
“In rural southeast Ohio, over 260 pit bulls were rescued from a breeding and suspected dogfighting ring, and kept for a number of weeks in a shelter until the animals could be adopted and taken by rescue groups for adoption,” she said. “And there was a huge hoarding situation in Elk County [PA] where we set up a shelter to care for about 400 cats.
“In these cases the animals often need to be kept for a longer period of time because they not only need to be rescued, but they are also evidence in a crime,” she said.
While the PETS Act only provides for domestic pets and service animals, “There’ve been times when we’ve had dogs and cats and cows and emus to take care of, we just do our best with whatever animal needs help.”
And while being on site after a disaster or seeing the results of hoarding or dogfighting can be traumatic, “You meet some of the most awesome people in rescue situations,” Karen remarked.
Not just natural disasters, and preparedness for our pets
Speaking of fairly weather-calm southwestern Pennsylvania, Karen said, “We live in an area where there aren’t those big natural disasters—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes—but we do have these other possibilities to consider.
“What if you live near railroad tracks? Remember ‘Snowmageddon’? Marcellus gas wells are popping up everywhere and there have been fires and chemicals associated. There are a lot of things that happen locally that we need to be aware of,” she continued. “What if the police knocked on your door and said you had 15 minutes to evacuate?”
Obviously, being prepared for disasters is something we all need to do for our pets and ourselves and there might be much less rescue as a result. In addition to her first aid classes, “What I’m hoping to do is put together sort of a 90-minute presentation on pet disaster preparedness to help people get materials together and be ready to leave if they need to,” she said.
Caring for senior pets as part of pet first aid
“Animals, because we’re taking better care of them, are living longer,” Karen said. Senior pet care is offered as part of the eight-hour Pet Tech “Pet Saver” class, but she’d also like to do a 90-minute segment on senior pet care. ” Some folks may not be able to fit the full five-hour certification class into their schedule, but may have a senior pet, and would like to at least learn about things they can do to improve the quality of their senior pet’s life,” she said.
Karen’s pets must be the luckiest pets around to have such a skilled mom! Because of her schedule she always kept only cats, and even now that she is retired from her position at Mayview, her teaching and deployments keep her away. She lives with four cats at the moment, and is about to foster two more for a relative who is expecting a child, plus she feeds a number of strays and ferals in her back yard and is an “aunt” to two schnauzers, Maddy and Rocky.
She did put a good many of her skills to the test for one of her own cats a few years ago. “Sometimes there is a pet who becomes that special part of your life, and Lacey was that for me,” she recalls. “First she was diagnosed with hyperthyroid disease and she’d spit out her medicine, so I had the radioactive treatment done,” Karen explained. “She came through that fine, but two years later developed nasal lymphoma, and after chemo that went into remission for a couple of years, then it showed up in her intestine and we did chemo for that.”
Lacey never had any reaction to the chemo and remained “queen of the house”. “You could do anything to her, she was fine and dandy with whatever they did at the vet’s and they just loved her.” Lacey needed tube feeding after the treatments started. “For years I had an IV hanging in my living room,” she said.
As for the cats she feeds in her back yard, “They have it like Club Med back there—the three that I see nearly every day that are out there waiting for breakfast every morning, and I’d better never be late!” she said. She bought a feral cat feeding station and for winter has a heated water dish for the cats, heated cat house, as well as heaters in bird baths. “They are all are well taken care of,” she said, including the raccoons, groundhogs and other animals which come to visit.
Meeting Deb Chebatoris and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation
Karen and I are both families whose cats have been cared for by Deb Chebatoris and I asked how she first found out about Deb.
“I saw an article in the paper and cut it out and kept it because I knew I’d need it sometime,” Karen said. “It came time for Cagney, my first cat, and I called her and discovered what a wonderful setup she had.”
I look forward to bringing you Karen’s articles beginning this Friday on the topic of Disaster Preparedness. October is National Pet Wellness Month, November is Senior Pet Adoption Month, December is the holidays, full of dangers, and Karen will also be writing on these topics as well.
Karen’s website is http://www.pghpetemergencytraining.com/.