When the flood crisis deepened in late February/early March in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, and the water levels in the Northern Rivers, NSW, rose 2 m above the previous worse level in history, it became clear that there would be assistance needed for animals.
We heard that all 3 clinics in Lismore were flooded out and received a few phone calls for help from private vets in the area. We realised that we had to respond.
A small forward team went up from Melbourne, followed by a larger team a few days later with the VFC small animals triage van, obtained with the support of Animals Australia and generous supporters. We could see that local authorities and NGOS like SES were overwhelmed. The farmers and animals in crisis needed to be attended to so we immediately contacted the Local Land Services (LLS) vets who were quick to respond and assist.
In total, VFC spent more than four weeks in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales to assist with the extensive floods the region experienced, helping the local animals. We stayed in Ballina and travelled from there every day, often not getting back until late.
We had a team of 20 volunteer vets and nurses from Victoria and another 30 recruited from NSW.
The triage van, staffed by volunteer small animal vets and nurses, provided free treatment to the community while the local vets were shut. It was initially located in Lismore then moved to Coraki and staffed by volunteers, saw at least 190 small animals. They attended to many small animal species, mainly dogs and cats but also chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, a goat and a koala.
There were dogs and cats that had sustained cuts and wounds. Many had dermatitis in their feet and body due to being submerged in water for days, others were brought in covered with oil and mud. They were all sedated and decontaminated and where needed anaesthetised so wounds could be disinfected and stitched.
Many animals were found by owners a week or two after the floods. We also saw some stray animals picked up by people such as some stray kittens who were found, treated then taken to a foster carer. We visited the foster carer and followed up with distribution of supplies to others.
The small animal vets also did house calls, desexed 9 cats that were being cared for by a farmer. They also performed desexing and minor surgery in the triage van for townsfolk who could not get to their vet.
While the triage van was in Coraki, the entire town was flooded a second time and had no water or electricity and had the army assisting to set up temporary showers and toilets for people.
The two VFC mobile large animal teams drove over 4,000 km over three weeks and visited 25 towns with the teams regularly driving 150-200 km a day to attend to cattle farms, sheep farms, properties where horses needed help and also the Bangalow Showgrounds where many of the rescued horses with injuries were housed.
The towns serviced included Ballina, Lismore, Grafton, Wardell, Coraki, Woodburn, Greenridge, Lawrence Casino, Bangalow, Cabbage Tree Island, Palmers Island, Tatham.
The cattle and equine vets anaesthetised and performed surgery on horses with significant lacerations and treated mainly respiratory and skin/musculoskeletal injuries/infection as a result of trauma and submersion in a range of large animal species.
During farm visits, we also treated and vaccinated farm dogs and cats when requested.
VFC connected farmers to private hay suppliers and did reconnaissance to assist LLS at the Indigenous Community at Cabbage Tree Island to check for any injured/displaced animals.
The equine veterinarians assisted Dr Nikita Stibberd many days with the horses at the Bangalow Showgrounds.
In addition to all this, VFC also attended to 3 snake calls, kangaroo calls and attended the Araucaria Wildlife Shelter to treat a fence hanger joey.
Our last small animal vet arrived in the fourth week and spent the week in Coraki, travelling by boat to visit some homes that were hit by the second wave of flooding.
The team was mentally and physically worn seeing all the devastation and the suffering of the people and the animals. Hearing people say they were rescued in the nick of time but the boat only had room for four animals - they had to pick four and let the others drown. People who watched as their animals washed away – cats, dogs, horses, cows. There were some happy outcomes but also a lot of suffering and anguish. There are many stories on our social pages if you would like to read more.
During the four weeks, VFC saw at least 190 small animals and visited no less than 90 farms. 40+ different vets and vet practice staff donated their time and expertise equating to more than 700 hours given towards animal welfare in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous flooding.