I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Lee Pickett—veterinarian, veterinary acupuncturist, teacher, and founder of PetNet—about her practice and how her community weathered Hurricane Florence.
Q: I understand you practice companion animal medicine as well as veterinary acupuncture. What are some of the basic applications of acupuncture in veterinary medicine—and is it well tolerated by animals?
A: Acupuncture is often used in dogs and cats with degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis and other musculoskeletal and neurologic conditions. Other common uses are allergic skin disease, seizures (along with standard medications) and chronic kidney disease. I’ve used acupuncture to successfully treat birds with psychological feather-picking and even on a a pet skunk with arthritis. Most pets enjoy acupuncture because it releases endorphins—and because they learn that it helps relieve their pain and other problems.
Q: In addition to clinical practice and teaching, you also founded PetNet, a resource for pets coming from home environments of domestic violence. Can you describe briefly what PetNet does and whom it serves?
A: I learned that many women who experience domestic violence refuse to leave home because the abuser threatens to harm or kill the family pet—and often follows through on those threats. So, I brought our local humane society and women’s shelter together to form PetNet, which provides temporary foster care for pets while the women and children live in the shelter. When they find safe housing, their pets rejoin them.
Since its founding, the program has expanded to care for pets that might otherwise have to be surrendered to a shelter because their families are temporarily unable to care for them. PetNet was honored by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government for its innovation, and it continues to serve as a model for similar programs in other communities.
Q: What do you see as the main health challenge to domestic pets—both in your area and nationwide?
A: Too many pets are overweight, in part because their caregivers don’t know their ideal weight and don’t understand body condition scoring. Carrying around excess weight predisposes pets to painful conditions like degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) and life-shortening diseases such as diabetes. Treating these disorders is expensive, too. If your veterinarian does a physical exam and doesn’t comment on your pet’s weight, ask about it. The body condition score is a number; ask for your pet’s BCS!
Q: Do you personally have any rescue animals as pets, and how did you acquire them?
A: Most of my pets have been rescues. Currently, my cats all came from shelters and my dogs from breed rescue organizations.
Q: How would you advise pet owners to prepare for a weather-related emergency like Hurricane Florence?
A: Any storm that’s unsafe for people is too risky for pets to weather alone. And if you’re advised to leave, plan to evacuate with your pets. Use your cell phone or tablet to photograph each pet and their vaccination and microchip certificates. Alternatively, you can store this information in a large envelope or mobile app. Every spring, update the information so you’re prepared for summer hurricanes.
If your pets aren’t already microchipped, have your veterinarian chip them now so they’ll carry lifetime identification. Record the names, addresses, phone numbers and websites of several locations that can house you and your pets—from pet-friendly evacuation shelters and motels to boarding kennels and the homes of family and friends.
Fill a tote with a one-week supply of your pets’ medicines, food, bottled water, dishes, pet first aid kit, leashes, litter, litter boxes, and each pet’s collar and ID tag. Periodically use and replenish the medicine, food and water so it’s always fresh.
Label each pet's carrier with your name and contact information, and line the bottom of each with a thick towel. Keep the carriers near your supplies, rather than hidden away in the attic, in case you need to evacuate quickly.
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Q: How did your practice and community respond to Hurricane Florence and its aftermath (i.e., pet rescues, temporary pet shelters, etc.)?
A: I volunteered at one of my county’s “co-location” evacuation shelters. A co-location shelter accepts both people and pets. The pets stay in a separate area of the building, and family members regularly come over to feed and exercise their pets. My first guests were two young bunnies and the two little girls who loved them. They all had a wonderful adventure!
Q: What could communities do better to accommodate lost, rescued, or abandoned pets during natural disasters and other emergencies?
A: Communities should encourage pet parents to microchip their pets and put identification tags on them. We should also make it easy for people not to abandon their pets by providing co-location shelters like those in my community.
Q: What has been your practical experience with clients using pet insurance to help pay for veterinary expenses?
A: I love caring for pets with medical insurance, because I know their families are committed to helping them live long, healthy, comfortable lives. When the pet is insured, I know I’ll never have to take on that difficult conversation after I make a medical or surgical recommendation the family can’t afford. I hate doing financial euthanasias, knowing the families are in even more pain than I am. Pet insurance prevents all that suffering and saves the pet’s life.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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