Story by Jennifer Gauntt
Seventeen members of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) deployed to Onalaska, Texas, on Saturday morning to serve citizens affected by the tornado that struck East Texas on Wednesday.
In Polk County, VET members will work with community sheltering operations to provide veterinary medical care to animals injured in the storm, which killed three people and left up to 30 injured.
The request for the team’s services was initiated by the veterinary medical community there through county officials as a result of the significant damage caused by the tornado, combined with the fact that most of the veterinary medical resources are around 20 miles from the impact area.
During severe storm situations, animals tend to go into hiding, are hesitant to reemerge, and tend to be fairly skittish when they do. It is common for the animal response to a disaster to be delayed as a result, and the degree of the problem usually only becomes apparent when communities begin clearing out debris, according to VET director Dr. Wesley Bissett.
Because of this, being able to place veterinary medical resources on site, closer to the impact area, is important in this situation, Bissett said.
“Certainly, this is a complicated time for everyone to deploy,” Bissett said, “but because of everything going on, providing for those animals is of the utmost importance.
“Our lives have gotten so complicated with COVID-19 and for this community to be hit with a tornado on top of everything else, they need things to be OK; they need that hope,” he said. “The thing we know from all of the team’s deployments is that putting animals and people back together provides that hope.
“It’s a challenging, trying time, but this is a community that I’m sure has been turned upside down,” he said. “We’re needed and we’re very committed to this mission because we know what it means.”
COVID-19 also complicates deployment for the VET; to mitigate potential issues, the VET will maintain a small footprint, will require members to wear face masks at all times, and will practice all of the precautions currently being practiced in Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where VET members have also been assisting with curbside admissions and discharge processes initiated because of the pandemic.
“We will continue to take all of the steps that we can in terms of personal protection to keep our people safe,” Bissett said. “We want to have enough there to support Polk County, but not too many so that we can do all of those things that are so important in keeping people safe.”
The team anticipates a short deployment of three to four days.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216