Imagine having to evacuate your home because of a disaster, knowing that your temporary housing won’t accept pets. Making the heart-wrenching decision to temporarily put your pet in the care of a shelter would be a little easier knowing that someone as skilled and compassionate as Brandon Cohen, BVMS, will be caring for them. Dr. Cohen is an emergency and small animal veterinarian and the medical director at VCA Natomas Animal Medical Center in Sacramento, as well as a volunteer with the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps (CAVMRC), an organization dedicated to caring for animals and need during and after disasters.

Dr. Cohen is one of many veterinary professionals who make up the CAVMRC, an all-volunteer organization that provides emergency veterinary medical care and expertise during the response phase of declared states of emergency. The CAVMRC assists local animal authorities with emergency shelter set-up and provides triage veterinary care to animals in the emergency shelter setting during declared disasters like wildfires.

“We treat a lot of burns and a lot of older dogs and cats with chronic illnesses like kidney disease that need to be managed,” explains Dr. Cohen, who was recently deployed to help care for animals evacuated from the Caldor Fire near the Lake Tahoe resort region.

The Caldor Fire is an active wildfire that broke out on August 14, spreading quickly in the hot, dry, and windy summer conditions in California. It’s nearly 220,000 acres in size and has destroyed over 700 homes, displacing families, their pets, livestock and wildlife.

Although Dr. Cohen works mostly with small animals in emergency medicine at VCA Natomas, his experience with exotics and large animals has prepared him well for the diversity of species he treats at the emergency shelters.

“I’ve treated everything from mice, rats and tortoises to goats and pigs,” he says. “No matter the animal, the goal is the same: treat injuries and keep them healthy until they can go home.”

Since burn treatment is still an evolving area in veterinary medicine, emergency animal shelters have been fertile ground for innovation. Wildfire burn victims were the first animals to be treated with sterilized fish skins. Researchers found that fish skin can speed the healing process by transferring collagen to the burned skin. 
Even with the exciting array of animals and innovation happening at the emergency shelters, Dr. Cohen says his favorite moments while volunteering are the quiet ones. He says he tries to a spend a little extra time with each animal he treats.

“These animals are often injured, scared, and feeling alone away from their families or familiar environment,” he says. “My favorite cases are the ones where I get to see their demeanor change because they recognize that I was there for them and gave them some comfort during a difficult time.” 

The CAVRMC welcomes all members of a veterinary practice to volunteer including veterinarians, registered veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, office managers and all support staff members, students in veterinary medical programs and retired veterinary professionals with a current license. Dr. Cohen says his VCA colleagues have joined him on past deployments and are always ready to jump in when needed.

CAVMRC is not only a volunteer-driven organization – as a not for profit, they’re completely dependent on donations to buy the medications, fluids and supplies they use to care for animals during a disaster. Dr. Cohen urges anyone who is interested in making a donation to visit their website.

“I love being able to help animals as I am a firm believer in One Health; the human animal bond is an important component of that,” he says. “I take joy in helping the creatures that cannot always speak for themselves, especially the animals that would suffer without CAVMRC’s help.”

Thank you, Dr. Cohen, for the outstanding care you provide your patients at VCA Natomas, and for all you do to help animals through your volunteer work with CAVMRC!
““My favorite cases are the ones where I get to see their demeanor change because they recognize that I was there for them and gave them some comfort during a difficult time," Dr. Cohen says.”