Hurricane Sandy: The Animal Medical Center Story

October 31, 2012

The view down E. 62nd Street on Monday night

By Sunday night, the Governor and Mayor had shut down all mass transit in NYC, our schools were already closed for Monday, and by Monday morning even the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading for the day. New York City was silent; everyone was indoors and the wind and rain of Hurricane Sandy had not yet arrived. Despite all the closures, The Animal Medical Center was open for business as usual.

As far back as anyone can remember, The AMC has never closed. We mean it when we say we are open 24/7. When a disaster is anticipated, the staff work together to determine how best to cover shifts and maintain adequate nursing and medical expertise for our patients. During blackouts, natural disasters, and human disasters, our staff comes to work prepared. Many employees came to work on Sunday with food, clothes, and bedding, planning to stay for the duration of the storm. The AMC stores inflatable beds for those employees sleeping at the hospital. The beds got blown up Monday afternoon since the electricity fluttered on and off during the day. Lucky for us, our favorite deli and neighborhood diner were still open.

It was a good thing we were open for business, as really sick animals needed care. Here is a sampling of the Sunday night admission list: a stray cat and a stray dog were brought to The AMC since the shelters were closed for the night; Harley, a cat, came in with complications of diabetes; Lexi, a bulldog, was admitted for serious vomiting; Gus the cat developed heart failure; Monkey, a Pekingese, required an emergency MRI and back surgery; a golden retriever named Aristotle became unconscious and he too required an emergency MRI ; Rysiu was admitted for feline bladder stones resulting in a urinary blockage. On Monday, he had an urgent surgery to remove the stones.

Visits to our emergency room were steady on Monday morning, but most scheduled patients cancelled their visits. The ER continued accepting patients overnight, even though there was at one point a foot of water in the first floor lobby. Our power went out from about 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., during which time our generator kicked in to run essential electrical equipment. Once the high tide began to recede, the lobby was squeegeed dry and, except for internet service that was slow to be restored, we were back to normal. The banners on the north side of the building are in tatters and our awning has a rip, but these are cosmetic only and we feel very fortunate to only be slightly damp around the edges.

New York pets were fortunate, too. For the second hurricane in a row, pets were allowed in evacuation shelters and in his Monday press conference, Mayor Bloomberg announced 73 pets had already been accepted into shelters.

Find more information about Hurricane Sandy and pets here.

For help in planning for the next disaster, click here.

Helping Pets in Japan

April 7, 2011

In the wake of the tragic news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it is not surprising that reporters are also writing about the terrible effects these disasters have had on pets. I have noted some internet news specifically regarding post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I checked books on animal behavior and found virtually no information on the topic in standard veterinary behavior books. The lack of information made me wonder if the diagnosis of PTSD was a human psychiatric disorder incorrectly attributed to pets. So I contacted a fellow dog lover and a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, just up the street from The Animal Medical Center.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman explained to me how PTSD develops and how researchers study the disease. A benign occurrence such as the sound of a bell precedes a noxious stimulus such as a small, safe electric shock. Pairing the harmless sound with the noxious stimulus now makes the animal associate the sound with the painful shock and it has a fear response to the sound. This form of classical Pavlovian conditioning links a previously harmful stimulus (sound) to the hard-wired fear response and involves the formation of new neural connections in the brain, particularly in the amygdale — a region critical to fear response.

Once PTSD has developed, presenting the sound repeatedly to the animal, without a shock, the sound will ultimately cease to elicit a fear response, a phenomenon called extinction, which is essentially how psychiatrists like Dr. Friedman treat PTSD in humans.

This explanation of PTSD does not fit the one time earthquake/tsunami experienced by the Japanese pets now displaced from their homes and living in shelters. That is not to say these animals are not experiencing both mental and physical stress. Anxiety can result from the inability to escape or control situations that elicit an initial fear response. This definition makes it easy to imagine how displaced pets in post-earthquake Japan might be suffering from anxiety due to the loss of their home, their family and their normal routines. The physical manifestations of anxiety may be inappropriate eliminations, noise phobias and destructive behavior.

Many organizations aimed at helping animals are working together in Japan. The Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA) has 45 member hospitals in the disaster area. JAHA President Takuo Ishida reports they are supporting relief efforts through two funds.

According to President Ishida, “One is for animals and their families, and the other is for veterinary hospitals. JAHA is now asking for relief donations via web site and letters to the member hospitals. The donations for the former purpose will be sent to Japanese SPCA and those for the latter will be sent to Japanese Veterinary Medical Association.”

World Vets, based in Fargo, North Dakota has some teams on the ground in Japan, but a full scale effort is hampered by the current radiation concerns due to damage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) anticipates the animal relief efforts will ramp up shortly and be in operation for many months to come. The AVMF’s Animal Disaster Relief and Reimbursement Fund will be supporting animal disaster relief in Japan.

All the organizations included in the links above, as well as many others are accepting donations towards Japanese animal relief efforts.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

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