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Veterinary Emergency Team Continues Efforts in Bastrop

SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 - *UPDATE* Veterinary Emergency Team Continues Efforts in Bastrop

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - As the rest of the nation pauses to remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), and his team also took time this morning to remember the heroes from that day before returning to the work at hand - caring for the animal victims of the Bastrop wildfire.

The area where they now operate has become a surreal, blackened landscape where virtually everything is burned and black all the way to the tree-tops. While the team continues to treat animals that arrive singed and burned, in the middle of such devastation, it illustrates the important role that those involved in the animal response continue to play.

"Can you imagine how these animals survived," asks Bissett. "It is the duty of our profession to take care of their needs. They are important. They may be all a family has left of their former life."

Since deploying to Bastrop, the members of the Texas VET have played a key role in the multi-agency response effort. The team has seen approximately 100 rescued small animals brought in from areas cleared by first responders, 50 of which needed fairly extensive treatment. There have also been a few large animals seen as well, some in shelters with injuries which occurred during the evacuation process.

VET Trucks and Trailers

The VET expanded operations in Bastrop earlier this week, bringing both of their trailers and a field service vehicle which increased the team's flexibility in responding to animals in need.

"In addition to the rescued animals, our team has continued our work with the search and rescue dogs," said Bissett. "These dogs are attached to Texas Task Force-1, and it is amazing to see how these dogs are treated. They are so much more than tools, they are true team members and receive the same care and respect as their human counterparts. They have been working under difficult conditions, and we have been providing them with fluid therapy as well as dealing with the results of working across rough and hot terrain. The members of TTF-1 are a truly impressive group who are as concerned about the animals they find as the other aspects of their job, never losing sympathy for the people and animals affected by this wildfire."

Bissett also realizes that his team is only able to do their job with the cooperation of other agencies. Financial support and equipment support helped get this team started. The Texas Department of Emergency Management, Coufal Prater, John Deere Corporation, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation provided early support that helped to make the VET a reality.

"While I had only met Jack Colley, former head of the Texas Department of Emergency Management, I heard many stories about how much he loved animals and was committed to their care during disasters," recalls Bissett. "He was instrumental in TDEM providing the initial funding. I think he would be proud of what we have built. Fortunately the commitment to excellence in emergency response continues under the leadership of Chief Nim Kidd. The emergency response system in the State of Texas is world-class. This state does it right".

Two others instrumental in the development of the VET are Drs. Dee Ellis and Matt Cochran of the Texas Animal Health Commission. Bissett noted that it was at their urging that the VET unit was developed for use in disasters, and they continue to be partners with the VET in both service and education.

"TAHC continues to work closely with partners such as the TAMU VET to help the local responders address the needs of animals in response to the wildfires," said Amanda Bernhard, TAHC Emergency Management Coordinator, echoing Bissett's commitment to the partnership between the two organizations.

In addition to the search and rescue team from TTF-1, The Austin and Bastrop Animal Control units continue to foray into areas deemed clear by firefighters to search for animals in distress, and to bring them to the VET for triage and emergency care.

"As our days alternate between quiet and intense action," said Bissett, "it has been special and an honor to watch the diversity of first responders, including our own team, pitch in to support the emergency response with such dedication and commitment. They have been handling the tasks at hand, whatever we are asked to face each day, with professionalism and compassion. This has been an extremely humbling experience for all of us, and today, on Patriots' Day, while we remember those who responded ten years ago, I want to recognize and thank the heroes that continue to work with us and around us, deployed or not, that serve in difficult conditions to make the world a safer place for all of us."

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