In the Midst of Disaster Springs Hope
Posted July 19, 2016
Brought in after being
separated from his owner, August is examined by Dr. Deb Zoran,
chief of medical operations, and D’Lisa Whaley, veterinary
technician, as part of the Veterinary Emergency Team’s deployment
to San Marcos in response to the Blanco River flooding.
Memorial Day weekend—a time reserved to honor those who have
served in the military and given their lives so that all can live
in a free society. It is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of
these men and women and celebrate all they have accomplished.
However, the 2015 Memorial Weekend will also be remembered as an
example of the strength and power of Mother Nature, especially in
the minds of the residents and visitors to Wimberley, Texas.
rainfall in the Texas Hill Country changed the gentle flow of the
Blanco River in Wimberley into a raging wall of water that carried
away houses, trees, cars, and anything else left in its path.
People were missing. Pets were left stranded in hasty
The McComb family, and their friends,
were vacationing in Wimberley for the holiday weekend. The house
they were in was lifted from its foundation by the strength of the
floodwaters and forced against a bridge. The house was swept away,
leaving the father, Jonathan McComb, as the only survivor.
VET Provides Relief in Wimberley
As part of the large search and rescue
effort, the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) deployed
to Wimberley to provide veterinary medical support for the canine
teams of Texas Task Force 1 (TTF1). Huge piles of debris,
impassable roadways, and unstable structures all had to be
searched. The dogs and their human handlers worked tirelessly in
this precarious environment to rescue those who survived the night
and to search for those still missing.
“These dogs are special,” said Dr. Deb
Zoran, chief veterinary medical officer for VET. “They are trained
to go into hazardous environments that are not safe for humans to
look for missing persons that need rescue or recovery. They are at
a high risk of injury and exposure to environmental hazards. Our
partners on the urban search and rescue teams have recognized the
value of onsite veterinary medical support in enabling their
searches to be more effective.”
As the rains subsided and the sun rose,
the heat and humidity created an additional challenge to the search
teams: dehydration. Pre-search fluid therapy, ongoing veterinary
examinations, and medical intervention throughout the day kept the
canines in the field and on task longer and more safely.
Bringing Maggie Home
While teams were in the field, VET
members began receiving and examining stranded pets to ensure
injuries were treated and the animals eventually would be able to
reunite with their owners. A Wimberley resident who had returned to
evaluate the damage to his property brought in a yellow lab he
found in the branches of a felled tree on his property. The dog did
not belong to him, but he knew it would be important to get the dog
back to the owner.
Maggie McComb, brought in
to the VET trailers in Wimberley by a local landowner who found
her, was examined and waits patiently for family to arrive to take
After treating the lab for minor
injuries, the dog was scanned for a microchip. VET members then
discovered that her name was Maggie, and she belonged to the McComb
family. By this time, Jonathan was being treated for injuries in a
nearby hospital, and the search was ongoing for the rest of his
family and friends. Through the efforts of VET, Maggie was
returned to the McCombs.
“To have someone find an animal in the
middle of devastation and care enough to seek help is a tremendous
example of the compassion and neighbor-helping-neighbor mindset we
witnessed in Wimberley,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director of
VET. “Stories like Maggie McComb are why we do what we do. The
intangible benefit of returning a pet to its owner lies at the core
of our mission. We were humbled by the outpouring of generosity
from a community recovering from a disaster, as well as by the
opportunity to play a part in the healing process by caring for
pets, like Maggie, who represent hope for someone.”
The search efforts in Wimberley came to
a close; the VET was redeployed to provide similar search and
rescue support to Texas Task Force 2 (TTF2), a team continuing the
search for the missing from their base of operations in San Marcos.
Due to the ongoing heat and humidity, the VET sent teams into the
field with the search and rescue units to provide on-scene
veterinary support. Most resident animal issues were addressed by
the local animal shelter, but a Wimberley resident who was staying
with family in San Marcos made a critical visit to the VET base of
“In San Marcos, we worked with some new
canine teams that we had not worked with before,” said Zoran. “The
handlers, like those with Task Force 1, are such a dedicated
group—dedicated to their mission and dedicated to their canine
partners. It was great to begin building long-term relationships
with these new handlers and their teams.” But the opportunity to
serve through caring for animals was not limited to just the search
and rescue canines.
Natalie Taylor evacuated her Wimberley
residence as quickly as she could, but was unable to locate her
oldest cat, August. As Taylor returned to her home, she found
August waiting for her. She cleaned August up and brought him back
to San Marcos. However, due to age and the stress of the disaster,
August’s health began failing. Taylor heard about the VET and took
August to the VET’s mobile medical trailer to see if he could be
August was treated with fluids and
medications, and Taylor was told that the prognosis was not good.
Taylor took August home with instructions to return the next day
for an evaluation. When Taylor arrived the next afternoon, August
had made significant improvement. He was a survivor. More than
that, like Maggie, August provided a glimmer of hope that after
disaster life can begin again.
“August’s story is an illustration of
what our team is all about,” added Bissett. “As Aggies, we serve
the state of Texas through excellence and selfless service.
Providing support for the human-animal bond through caring for and
reuniting pets with their owners during a disaster is not just a
job—it’s our mission, our purpose, our duty, and our
Disasters are fraught with devastation
and despair, and the shock of sudden loss is hard to recover from.
Pets who are separated and then reunited with their families during
the recovery period provide the first step toward healing and the
assurance that life continues and can be rebuilt. The vital support
the VET provides in emergency situations helps support efforts to
rescue and find the missing and to help those animals and their
owners impacted by disasters to have a new beginning.
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