Hurricane Disaster Response: Equine FeedsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 26, 2006
Appalling stories of hurricane destruction filtered out of the Gulf Coast states last fall. Towns were destroyed. Barns were blown apart, their stored hay bales gone with the wind. Forage crops disappeared under blankets of mud or seawater. Fences were flattened and buried; pastures were covered with debris.
As pictures of hungry, thirsty, frightened refugees filled television screens, suffering animals were almost as numerous as bewildered humans. Big-eyed cats were found floating on piles of wreckage; dogs splashed along flooded roads, tails tucked between their legs, hunting for a familiar face. It was impossible not to sympathize with the thousands of storm victims, and viewers responded with an outpouring of money, clothing, food, and pet supplies.
This generous reaction was heartwarming, but the scope of the problem soon expanded beyond easy comprehension. As days went by and rescue teams continued to probe the countryside, it became clear that thousands of cattle, horses, and other livestock were also in need of basic food and care. Tons of hay and pallets of feed were required immediately, and in enormous quantities. It was clear that no quick or easy “fix” was going to sustain these large animals throughout the months ahead. Everybody wanted to help; no one knew exactly what to do…Just as countless drops of water had combined to devastate the countryside in several states, providing care and feed for displaced horses called for the small but interlinked efforts of many organizations, businesses, and individuals. Here are a few of their stories.
Individuals working together Sitting in front of her television in early September, Maryland horse owner Debbie Patterson and her husband Sean watched the storm coverage and knew they must help. “I originally just wanted to collect supplies and take them to the animals and people devastated by Katrina,” said Debbie. “It seemed that Louisiana was getting a lot of attention, so we decided to focus on Mississippi. I put together a flyer and started to talk to my friends, to people at the barn where we keep our horses, and to area businessmen.” Then she called local officials in Mississippi to find out where supplies should be delivered.
“We hoped to collect enough to fill our small horse trailer, but the donations that piled in were way beyond what we could take,” she explained. She realized they might need to make at least two trips if she used her trailer. Debbie had registered as a volunteer with Lone Star Equine Rescue, a Texas relief group. Soon after listing her farm as a source of hay, she was contacted by a Pennsylvania woman who had a trailer and was on her way to Mississippi to help with relocation of some stranded horses. Arrangements were made to stop on the way and pick up 100 bales of Debbie's hay. After reaching the distribution point in Hattiesburg, she called Debbie and emphasized the desperate need for feed and hay.
Realizing that the horses couldn't wait, Debbie and Sean rented a truck. It took four hours to load a small mountain of donations: 130 bales of hay, over a ton of feed, 650 pounds of alfalfa cubes, ten salt blocks, fly spray, a bag of horse treats, and box after box of medical supplies, halters, lead ropes, and other barn necessities. A long drive later, Debbie and Sean pulled into the distribution center in Hattiesburg. The first question they were asked was, “Do you have horse feed?”
The Hattiesburg center was filling many roles. Evacuated horses were being housed and cared for on site until their owners could claim them; supplies were available for horses at nearby locations; and trucks were waiting to transport feed and hay to southern counties where stranded horses waited, their owners unable to move them because of blocked roads and shortages of gasoline. Debbie and Sean were asked if they could take their truck and part of their supplies another 100 miles south to Pascagoula, a coastal town where the Jackson County sheriff's department was caring for more than fifty horses owned by the volunteers in its mounted unit. The beachfront stable had been washed away, fences were down, and pastures had been churned into muddy bogs. Debbie's feed and hay were immediately put to use.
Back in Maryland, the search for relief supplies had been carried forward by Debbie's co-workers and friends, most of whom also had full-time jobs, family responsibilities, and their own horses to care for. Two weeks later, volunteers drove another 140 bales of hay, a ton of feed, and 500 pounds of alfalfa cubes to Pascagoula. The search widened as dealers in four states were contacted in the effort to buy and ship hay, the most urgent need, and a cash donation was used to send 600 bales from Tennessee.
All told, Debbie and her grassroots group collected and moved about 72,000 pounds of supplies, including enough hay to sustain all 50 horses for the entire winter.
United States Equestrian Federation Hurricane Katrina's clouds had scarcely cleared over Louisiana and Mississippi before the USEF went into action, sending out an appeal for shelter, feed, and other assistance for equine storm victims. In the first 24 hours, thousands of e-mails poured in from all over the United States and Canada with offers of help, and a master list of available services was posted on the Web sites of the USEF and also the American Quarter Horse Association. A USEF press release on September 1 stated, “Unofficial reports from the hurricane area indicate that feed and hay are scarce, and fuel is extremely difficult to obtain, making it difficult to transport horses out of the area.” The problem was monumental; there was no way for victims to escape; and the solution would not be simple.
By the next day, USEF had established a Hurricane Equine Relief Fund to collect and disperse monetary donations to secure food, shelter, and veterinary care for horses and ponies in the affected area. A few days later the USEF announced that the Kentucky Horse Park, home to almost 20 national equine organizations, was acting as a collection point for human, equine, and small animal supplies.
Many groups were cooperating to bring in donations, and several Lexington firms had pledged their trucks, drivers, and fuel to transport material to the affected areas. The number and variety of items were enormous: halters and lead ropes, buckets, fly spray, shovels and pitchforks, hay and grain and bedding for horses; veterinary medications, bandages, and vaccines for the treatment of injured animals; saddles, bridles, helmets, and boots for horsemen who would need to resume riding and training; and linens, baby food, diapers, folding chairs, pots and pans, and cleaning supplies for the huge number of residents who had lost everything in the storm.
Besides sending material and money for direct aid, the USEF also functioned as an information center. By the second week of September, Louisiana contact numbers were posted on the Web site. The federation had set up a dedicated phone line to take emergency calls from Mississippians in need of emergency assistance for their horses. Details gathered from the calls were sent to rescue groups and assistance organizations throughout the storm area. The USEF publicized contact information for those wishing to deliver feed or vet supplies to disaster areas, with hay specified as a particularly vital necessity.
As rescue efforts built across the country, another enormous hurricane, Rita, brought a second wave of destruction across the Gulf Coast. With a hint of desperation, the USEF announced, “All donations made to the USEF Equine Relief Fund will be used to assist victims of any 2005 hurricane including Katrina, Rita, or any others that could occur. The Fund will assist those agencies working directly with the equine victims and refugees from hurricanes.” The announcement ended on a hopeful note: “Equestrian is a way of life. And to us, equestrian means family.”
By the end of December 2005, the USEF had collected and disbursed $283,000 for hurricane relief. Donations ranged from single dollar bills sent by pony-loving children to $10,000 from the Kentucky Equine Education Project. Funds went to agencies in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas that were assisting with search and rescue activities, veterinary care, purchase and transport of hay and grain, and other types of support.
KentuckyEquine Research It may not be as large as the USEF or some private companies, but with a staff made up of many lifelong horse owners and enthusiasts, Kentucky Equine Research (KER) was eager to reach out to hurricane victims. In the first week after the storm, KER employees pooled their donations, and company president Joe Pagan matched the total to make a significant donation to the Red Cross's initial relief efforts. Many KER Team Members—feed mills and manufacturers associated with KER—made their own immediate and generous responses to hurricane relief in the form of products and monetary donations.
Pagan received an e-mail from the USEF regarding locations that had been set up to receive and distribute hay and grain, and this information was passed on to Team Members in the Bluegrass area. A suggestion came back to launch a company-wide effort, and a number of Team Member companies cooperated with a KER appeal to make a donation, perhaps a portion of their September feed sales, to the rescue effort. KER again agreed to match the total, promising that funds would go towards the purchase of items necessary for daily care of horses (feed, bedding, veterinary supplies, and stable equipment).
Months after the hurricanes struck, stories continue to trickle in regarding KER-affiliated companies and individuals who provided resources. While there is no way to tabulate the time, money, and labor given by those associated with KER, the overall response showed that many separate efforts can make a meaningful impact.
Relief efforts continue in the Gulf Coast states, where cleanup and rebuilding are expected to go on for some time to come. Horses will forget the dark experience as pasture grasses begin to grow. Humans on both ends of the rescue network may remember the storm, and the outpouring of aid, every time they hoist a bale of hay or open a sack of feed.