VET Brings Hope to Communities Impacted by Harvey
Posted September 06, 2017
Veterinary student Casie Watson examines a horse sheltered in
Fort Bend County.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, cities along the Texas coast
have been left ravaged, with many of their citizens stranded in the
midst of the storm’s extreme flooding. As support from the urban
search and rescue task forces and other state and national entities
ramped up in response, the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team
(VET) stepped in to offer medical support to search-and-rescue
canines and other impacted animals.
A advance team of four from the VET—including director Dr.
Wesley Bissett, operations officer Dr. Brandon Dominguez, and
members Dr. Deb Zoran and D’Lisa Whaley—deployed on Aug. 25 to the
Rockport, Texas, area at the request of Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1)
to care for search-and-rescue canines used in the recovery
On Aug. 28, a second team of 21, including five fourth-year DVM
students on the VET rotation at the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), deployed to
join the advance team at their reassigned location in Fort Bend
County to assist with the extensive flooding in the Houston
VET members currently deployed include safety officer Dr.
Noberto Espitia, emergency response coordinator CJ Mabry, public
information officers Dr. Angela Clendenin and Jennifer
Gauntt, photographer Tim Stephenson, LeTisha Zepeda, Warren
Hohertz, Kathy Glaze, Stuart Slattery, Felicia Hall, Jen Klemen,
Megan Hackman, Amy Hillburn, Susan Lobit, Laurie Shelton, and Case
Rhome, as well as VET rotation students Alex Hawthorn, Casie
Watson, Chelsea Payne, Allison Kipp, and Clare Brooks.
There, the VET continued its coordination with emergency
management officials; oversaw the treatment and care for large
animals sheltered on site; cared for TX-TF1 and TX-TF2
search-and-rescue canines; updated and maintained medical and
sheltering records; and continued instruction with the VET rotation
students, highlighting specialty care required for
search-and-rescue canines, emergency care triage, and inventory
VET members and Texas Task Force 1 members work in Fort Bend
The team’s care for TX-TF1 and TX-TF2 search-and-rescue canines
is critical as these dogs venture into the dangerous debris left in
the aftermath of natural disasters in search of trapped humans.
A TX-TF2 member noted that handlers are often focused on their
dog's reactions in guiding them to find missing people and
sometimes miss the nuances that can indicate an injury, such as a
slight limp or a change in gait.
"These dogs work in really challenging environments; there's
mud, there's debris, there are downed power lines. They can get
places where humans can't, so, because of that there are some
immediate risks," said Dr. Angela Clendenin, VET public
information. “Caring for these dogs allows them to be more
efficient in the field, which means they can continue to work hard
On Sept. 4, the VET moved its base of operations to Beaumont,
where the team began to support the community's increasing need for
medical care for both large and small animals as flood waters began
to recede. At this new "hub" of operations, the VET has been going
on field service calls for stranded and injured animals, including
longhorn cattle with bovine pneumonia, horses with flood-related
injuries, and cats that had been stranded. Counties covered by
these VET operations include Jefferson, Chambers, Orange, Liberty,
and Hardin. In addition, a medical operations center has been
established in Sour Lake, while operations also continue in
Brazoria County and Rockport.
VET members and Houston SPCA workers collaborate in Beaumont as
HSPCA begins transitioning out of the county.
"As we move into the second week of our response effort, it's
still staggering to see the damage left by Hurricane Harvey all
along the Texas coast—and the subsequent flooding. We have seen
truly heroic efforts of neighbors helping neighbors and first
responders going to great lengths to get people and animals to
safety," said Dr. Wesley Bissett, VET director. "The recovery
effort is beginning and will take some time. It's with great pride
that we can look at all that is going on around us and recognize
the resilience of the citizens of Texas. We're truly humbled to be
part of that transition from response to recovery.
"Our mission is an important one. Each and every VET
member—including our families and co-workers back in Aggieland, who
support our deployments by keeping things moving at home—is
contributing to building hope for the residents of the Texas
coast," he said. "It's a difficult and tiring task, but we're
pushing on to continue serving the state of Texas in its time of
need. This means pushing the VET and our resources further than we
ever have before, both in personnel and the reach of our medical
Because of the vast expanse of ground the VET is covering—having
worked in at least five counties at a time, and assisting in
several others—the relationships the team is building with private
practitioners, professional veterinary organizations, and other
agencies is becoming an integral part of the VET.
"We're working side by side with veterinarians and veterinary
technicians from the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA),
the Texas Equine Veterinary Association (TEVA), and the Brazos
Valley Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps," Bissett said. "In
addition, we're collaborating with the Texas Animal Health
Commission (TAHC) and Texas A&M AgriLife to ensure that animal
issues are being addressed across multiple counties. We continue to
remain plugged into the statewide response efforts through our
partnerships with the Texas A&M Forest Service, TX-TF1, and
The VET could be deployed for several more weeks, as rescue,
response, and recovery efforts begin to expand.
"Right now, the water is still up and the focus is very much on
the human side; animals typically will run and find a place to hide
to get away from the water as best they can," Clendenin said. "As
the water starts to recede, the animal issues are going to really
VET members D'Lisa Whaley and Dr. Deb Zoran accept a puppy from
U.S. Army National Guard soldiers.
"Very soon, those rescue operations that all of the task forces
are participating in will become house searches and rescues," she
said. "That's when they will take [search-and-rescue] dogs in, and
at that time, we'll respond to those other task force dogs that are
distant from us now."
Because of the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey,
its reach has extended to multiple areas that have been critically
impacted. The team has adapted and split up to enhance the VET's
response capability in order to help more communities. The focus is
to make sure VET is able to assist at a moment's notice, according
"It's humbling to be invited into a community—or to be invited
to partner with another response team like TX-TF1—and get to do our
part to help the citizens of Texas in their time of need,"
The CVM has set up the Veterinary Emergency Disaster Fund,
with proceeds benefiting the VET. Visit tx.ag/CVMVETFund
Those interested in the VET’s actions on deployment can
follow the VET on Facebook.
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