VET Supports Van Zandt Recovery Efforts, Veterans

VET members group Photo in Port O'Connor
VET members traveled to Port O’Connor, Texas, May 19-21 to support the service animals of veterans who converged from all over the country for Wounded Warriors’ Weekend.

The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) traveled across the eastern half of Texas to offer a healing hand to those afflicted by the tornadoes that struck Van Zandt County on April 29 and to support veterans and their service companion animals for Wounded Warriors’ Weekend, May 19-21.

The team deployed on the morning of April 30 and spent three days at Canton Junior High, where they provided medical support for injured animals, both large and small, and helped reunite lost or missing pets with their owners. They arrived to conditions resulting from an F4 tornado that brushed one side of town and an F3 on the other; the F3 was on the ground for approximately 50 miles.

“As has been the case with every deployment, we were amazed by two things: the power of Mother Nature and the incredible generosity, kindness, and sense of community that is so prevalent in our state,” said Dr. Wesley T. Bissett, VET director and assistant professor in the CVM’s Large Animal Clinical Science Department.

During their efforts, the team coordinated with local veterinarians, including Canton Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. Tim Eberhart—whose home was destroyed in the tornado but was at his clinic in the morning to be available for his community—and the Texas Animal Health Commission.

“This community was remarkable; they rallied around each other and all of the first responders. They were incredibly thankful for all of the assistance and also intent on transitioning to the recovery phase. This is truly an incredible group,” he said. “We have yet to go to a Texas community that I wasn’t convinced would come back from a disaster even better than it was before.”

Also remarkable were the efforts of the VET members who represented Texas A&M, the CVM, and all of VET extremely well.

 Erin Tolson and Amy Eiland helping a dog
Fourth-year veterinary students Erin Tolson and Amy Eiland help Bear cool off during Wounded Warriors’ Weekend in Port O’Connor.

“Professionalism, kindness, compassion, and an incredible work ethic were so prominently on display; they are working hard and do so with a smile,” Bissett said. “Our faculty, staff, and students have a rich history of serving our state and nation in incredibly remarkable ways, and our history is one of impact every single day, even those that are the darkest. Aggies stand up and are counted when it counts.

During the three-day deployment—“long enough to help out through the worst” and to allow the community to begin “the hard work of getting back to normalcy”—Bissett said he appreciated everyone who came together for the cause.

“The Texas A&M Forest Service supported incident management; they did an incredible job of guiding a community through these types of incidents. They bring a level of organization and leadership that is desperately needed when disaster strikes and it is an honor to work with such a highly professional group of people,” he said. “Texas Task Force 1 and 2 functioned as they always do, with the highest level of expertise focused on finding the lost. We work with them so frequently and yet I continue to be surprised by just how good they are.

“Texas A&M AgriLife was actively engaged, as well. Tommy Phillips, the local extension agent was an integral part of the response,” Bissett continued. “Just as we saw in Brazoria County, the leadership and local knowledge that they bring to a response is incredibly important and very well done.”

A small team also traveled to Port O’Connor, Texas, for the 11th annual Wounded Warriors’ Weekend, during which veterans, their families, and their support companion/service animals from across the country enjoy a weekend of fishing, food, and fun.

Founded in 2007, Warrior’s Weekend is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the support of U.S. veterans, with an emphasis on those wounded in the Global War on Terrorism.

The VET has provided veterinary support to the special canines for the past two years at the Port O’Connor Community Center in the event that one of the dogs is injured or overheats during the festivities.

The sponsors for the event were worried because the closest small-animal veterinarians are 45 minutes away, so they contacted Dr. Deb Zoran, professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and VET member, to see if the VET would be willing to provide on-site veterinary support.

“The dogs that come with these soldiers are special,” Zoran said. “They are therapy dogs, service dogs, and retired military working dogs. In their own way, they continue to serve our nation by assisting these brave men and women who sacrificed so much for our country. Our presence is small way that we can give back to these special people and their companions, and we are pleased to be able to support this event.”

To see more pictures from the Warriors’ Weekend activities, visit the CVM Flickr page.

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