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Wildlife suffering, cats and dogs left homeless by oil spill

The death toll from the BP oil spill is 597. And that's just the number of dead birds found along the Gulf Coast so far.

The death toll from the BP oil spill  is 597. And that's just the number of dead birds found along the Gulf Coast so far.

Animal care teams - armed with cases of Dove soap -  are hard at work throughout the Gulf Coast region cleaning birds and other wildlife victims of the worst oil spill in the nation's history. Some critics call the effort futile and say the human hours would be better spent restoring wildlife habitats.

But animal rescuers are soldiering on in the laborious clean up effort. In the case of oil-covered birds for instance, every feather has to be cleaned individually and often the cleaning has to be repeated, taking up to two hours for one bird.

"They have to be bathed in fairly warm water; it has to be about 100 degrees. If it's not warm enough, you're not going to break up the oil," wildlife rehabilitator Pam Stegman told WBEN Radio in Buffalo. "And we generally use Dawn dish detergent - believe it or not, we really do use that - because it's a very good detergent that will break up the oil, and yet not harm the animal. If you tried to use a commercial degreaser, it would be very bad for the bird."

But experts say cleaning the outside of a bird or marine mammal is only the beginning of an animal's recovery. They also suffering from stress, many from hypothermia and unknown internal distress from ingesting the toxic petroleum. Among the groups dispatching experts to the region is the Humane Society of the United States which has assembled a team which HSUS president Wayne Pacelle writes "is working to identify any gaps that exist in the current response and to prepare for the long-term effects of this cataclysm."

This update on the wildlife response from the White House today:

A U.S. Geological Survey wildlife veterinarian is providing support to the USFWS in Houma, Louisiana, with bird activities, including acting as the liaison to law enforcement wildlife incident command, acting as Louisiana wildlife morgue and the rehabilitated bird release coordinator.

Seventeen beached bird survey teams continued beach surveys in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and are planning to expand beach bird surveys into Texas and the southwest Louisiana beaches. Additional teams are undergoing training.

And here's more tragic - if not entirely unexpected news: The spill is affecting not just wildlife but companion animals as well. HSUS reports a higher volume of animals being turned in to already-overburdened shelters on the Gulf Coast by cash-strapped residents whose livelihoods have been harmed by the disaster. The organization recently delivered 12.5 tons of pet food to coastal Louisiana. See the video of the delivery and images of the newly homeless animals below.