The closure of the National Zoo — and its Panda Cam — made for some of the splashiest headlines in the first days of the government shutdown. But the zoo is far from the only animal-related institution to suffer while lawmakers argue over funding the federal government.
From dolphin research to therapy dogs, Vetstreet has rounded up some other programs involving animals that have been suspended during the shutdown.
No Therapy Dog Visits at NIH
One of the most heartbreaking programs to be halted has to be the therapy dog program at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. The dogs in the program, who make visits to patients including kids with cancer, need to be seen by veterinarians on the staff at the NIH — unfortunately, those vets have been furloughed, reported NPR.
As a result, the dogs aren’t making their rounds for now. Abbey Whetzel, whose son Sam is being treated for leukemia at NIH, said Sam is disappointed that he won’t be getting weekly visits from the dogs. “He really looks forward to the dogs coming,” she said. “He has a special fondness for the little dogs that can come and just sit on his bed and lay down and curl up with him.” Officials said the program will resume when the government is reopened.
Puppy Mill Investigations on Hold
The shutdown stopped USDA funding used to ensure animal safety by regulating the conditions at facilities for research labs, commercial breeders and dealers, and exhibitors of exotic animals, according to the Humane Society. In addition, the USDA’s website is dark during the shutdown, meaning the public can’t access animal-welfare inspection reports and violations. “With limited resources and less-than-vigorous enforcement under ordinary circumstances, we know that the shutdown is a terrible blow to dogs in puppy mills,” says Cori Menkin of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign.
Investigation Into Dolphin Deaths Hampered
With the mysterious East Coast bottlenose dolphin die-off reaching record numbers, the shutdown is now threatening to stall research into its cause. Many of the researchers collecting samples from the deceased dolphins have been furloughed; those who are still working are faced with a huge backlog. There’s a definite window of opportunity to gather the needed samples from the specimen, and if the shutdown continues, vital information could be lost. More than 600 dolphins have already died in the “unusual morality event.”
Right Whales at Risk
Managers of state marine programs that rely on federal agencies for help with strandings are becoming concerned about the possibility of having to deal with stranded endangered right whales on their own. While the impact has been minimal so far, authorities in Georgia say they’re dependent on information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the right whale calving season in November. Also, the National Marine Fisheries Service has suspended a program that protects right whales from deadly ship strikes.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo Closed
As we mentioned earlier, the shutdown has forced the closure of the National Zoo in Washington — and derailed our ability to watch the zoo’s 6-week-old panda cub on the aptly named Panda Cam. (But don't worry: There are folks there taking care of the animals.) While we're sad about the hopefully temporary blackout of the Panda Cam, that's not the only part of the zoo affected by the shutdown.
The zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, located in Front Royal, Va., is also closed during the shutdown, and had to cancel an annual festival that gives visitors a chance to interact with the animals and with scientists who are trying to save many different species from extinction.
Wild Pony Roundup Canceled
Traditionally, it's the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company who rounds up the herd of about 130 ponies living on the national wildlife refuge on Virginia’s Assateague Island for their annual pre-winter medical checkup. But the event, which has become a tourist draw, had to be canceled this year because the refuge is closed due to the shutdown, reported NBC Washington. Luckily, the firefighters will still be able to access the island if a pony in the herd is in need of medical attention.
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Invasive Bug Studies Suspended
There’s one group that might actually benefit from the shutdown: invasive bugs like the brown marmorated stink bug, reported Live Science. Scientists at the Entomological Society of America who are researching the bug, which is found in 40 states and is responsible for millions of dollars in crop damage every year, have had to put their work on hold just as the bugs are entering an important part of their life cycle. The researchers were also studying the Asian citrus psyllid, another agricultural pest. Their efforts toward learning to control that pest’s population may be delayed for more than a year.
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It’s unclear how long the shutdown will last, but hopefully these important programs will be back up and running quickly once it ends.