GRANADA, NICARAGUA — Along the banks of Laguna de Apoyo, a lake formed in the crater of a dormant volcano in Nicaragua, an unlikely group gathered — veterinarians, rescue experts and volunteers preparing for disasters.
Rescue specialist Kim Little normally trains firemen, police and rescue response teams on what to do in the event of disaster. But Little, of Billings, spent most of November some 3,000 miles away, teaching emergency animal rescue.
“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,” Little said. “But I’m also here to train local people.”
Little ran the program for World Vets, a nonprofit that designs international veterinary and disaster relief programs for animals. World Vets has clinics around the world and provides surgical training and practical experience to veterinarians and students.
“World Vets is building a global veterinary alliance to advance animal welfare and the veterinary profession, especially in developing regions of the world,” said Dr. Cathy King, a veterinarian and CEO of World Vets.
Since its founding in 2006, World Vets has provided care for animals in 36 countries around the globe, including rescuing animals displaced by floods, a tsunami and other disasters. Through its clinic in Granada, Nicaragua, World Vets is training students, veterinarians and rescue workers.
Latin American veterinarians and students are eligible for free surgical training, while international students can enroll in programs that allow them to work with experienced professionals in a modern surgical center.
“It’s a good place for them to come practice surgery in a low-stress environment,” said Dr. Sarah Seitz, a veterinarian for World Vets. “They get one-on-one training, which is really important. In most vet schools around the world, that is not available.”
World Vets also has developed a program to address a missing element in disaster relief — hands-on technical training for animal rescuers, and that's where Little comes in.
Little has been running a rescue training business in Billings since 1982. He said he drew on his outdoor experiences rafting and climbing to develop his training program.
When big storms like Sandy or Katrina strike, people are not the only ones who need rescuing. Pets and livestock are also at risk, he said.
The seven veterinarians, students and volunteers 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 on the lake, putting those classroom exercises to the test.
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 an international emergency.
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 Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.