Texas A&M’s Veterinary Emergency Team Assists in Hurricane Harvey Search and Rescue

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) is offering medical support to urban search-and-rescue task force canines and other injured or stranded animals at the request of multiple areas along the Texas coastline that have been negatively impacted by the extreme flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey.

Dr. Deb Zoran and fouth-year DVM students


Dr. Deb Zoran and fouth-year DVM students
Dr. Deb Zoran and fouth-year DVM students on the VET rotation discuss the care of search and rescue canines while deployed in Fort Bend County.

A team of four deployed on Aug. 25 to the Rockport, Texas, area to care for the search-and-rescue canines used in the Texas Task Force 1’s (TTF1) recovery efforts in the ravaged city.

On Aug. 28, a second team of 21, including five fourth-year veterinary students on the VET rotation at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), deployed to join the four in Aransas Pass, Texas, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reassigned TTF and VET to Fort Bend County to assist with the extensive flooding in the Houston metroplex.

Since reaching Fort Bend County, the VET has overseen the treatment and care for large animals sheltered on site; has accepted more than three dozen companion animals for evaluation and treatment; continued to care for the TTF1 and TTF2 search-and-rescue canines; coordinated with emergency management officials on areas of concern; and continued instruction with the VET rotation students, highlighting the specialty care required for search-and-rescue canines, as well as in the areas of emergency care triage and inventory control.



Also since then, smaller teams have branched out to other areas requesting medical support and assistance, providing day support to search-and-rescue canines that are part of a in FEMA-supported Incident Support Team in Katy and deploying to Chambers County, as well as back to Rockport.

“The damage and destruction from Hurricane Harvey has been a challenge for all response groups,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, founding director of the VET. “Now that the water is receding, more animals that were not evacuated are being located and brought to local sheltering operations. The VET is supporting these animals by providing triage and assessing any injuries and health status, providing treatment when necessary, and ensuring these animals are sheltered locally in a safe place so they can be reunited with their owners.”

The flood waters are especially problematic for the search-and-rescue canines, as well as resident animals, in that these waters are very contaminated. The VET developed a special decontamination unit to assist in removing the contaminants from the search-and-rescue dogs and other small animals brought to the VET base of operations.

Dr. Jackie Davidson and Rudy Madrigal treat an injured leg
Dr. Jackie Davidson and Rudy Madrigal treat an injured leg on Freckles, a dog owned by local resident Melanie White. Davidson and Madrigal have treated approximately 60 animals while deployed as a team for the VET in Rockport.

The team’s care for the TTF1 and TTF2 search-and-rescue canines is critical as they venture into the dangerous debris left in the aftermath of natural disasters in search of trapped humans.

One TTF2 member said that when on the scene, handlers are often focused on the dogs’ reactions in guiding them to find the lost or missing but that handlers sometimes miss the nuances that can indicate their dog may be injured, such as a slight limp or change in gait.

“The search and rescue dogs work in really challenging environments; they have to search in mud, debris, and even downed power lines. They maneuver themselves into places where humans can’t go, and because of that there are some immediate risks,” said Angela Clendenin, VET public information officer. “Taking good care of their medical needs and making sure they are healthy before they leaver our base allows them to be more efficient in the field, which means they can continue to work hard saving lives.”

VET members anticipate being deployed for at least a month in multiple locations as requested by county and community officials and response partners.

“It’s humbling to be invited into a community, or to be invited to partner with another response team like Texas Task Force 1, to do our part and to help the citizens of Texas in their time of need,” Clendenin said.

The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences has set up the Veterinary Emergency Disaster Fund, with proceeds benefiting the VET. Visit tx.ag/CVMVETFund for details.

Those interested in the VET’s actions on deployment can follow the VET on Facebook.

Through the Fire and the Flood–The Texas A&M VET Serves Texas Communities

VET leadership participate in an operational planning session.

Early June 2016 brought devastating floods and tornadoes to southeast Texas. In emergency situations such as these, it is important to have safe and efficient evacuation plans prepared for our communities, including our family pets and livestock. Just like people, animals need care and shelter when a disaster strikes, and the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is there to provide such care.

“We are Aggies,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, the executive director of the VET. “Aggies do special things in tough times, they stand up and serve.”

The VET was a dream brought to life in response to Hurricane Ike in 2008. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Bissett noticed that the care of animals in disasters was practically nonexistent. Many disaster victims were not willing to evacuate because they couldn’t take their pets with them. They often stayed in place to protect their pets, putting their own lives at risk.


Erin Wilkens decontaminates flood victims.

In 2006, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed at the federal level and required communities to have a plan for the evacuation of people with their animals during emergencies. The passage of PETS motivated Bissett to begin forming a veterinary emergency response team in 2008 at the CVM.

The VET was fully established in 2009. Since proving their effectiveness in the 2011 wildfire disaster in Bastrop, the VET has expanded to over 30 dedicated veterinarians, veterinary technicians, volunteers, and Texas A&M faculty, students, and staff. In addition, the VET also allows veterinary students a unique opportunity for field experience and is a required rotation in veterinary school at Texas A&M, something unique to the CVM.


“The bulk of the team is primarily faculty and staff that volunteer their time to be there,” said Angela Clendenin, public information officer for the VET. “However, students participate in a two-week rotation called Community Connections, which is taught by the faculty members on the VET. When there’s a disaster, we are able to take students that happen to be on the Community Connections rotation if they are able to go. Some of them have obligations that preclude them from going, and it’s not mandatory that they deploy with us, but they are encouraged to go and share in that experience.”

Melissa Bean and Cindy Schocke triage flood victims in Brazoria county.

The program is unique because students’ experience with disaster relief goes beyond theoretical knowledge. Instead, they learn first-hand about animal issues in disasters. When there’s not a disaster, the students work with faculty, local governments, and communities around the state of Texas to develop evacuation, sheltering, and medical operations plans for animals impacted by disasters.


Working out of several trailers and tents when on duty, the team has worked hard to secure equipment to serve their needs since its formation. It can be hard to anticipate the condition of animals when a disaster strikes; therefore, the team has developed special equipment, including a decontamination unit, to aid in the recovery of wounded or sick animals.

In June 2016, special equipment, like the decontamination unit, played a key role in treating animals affected by the flooding in Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties in southeast Texas. The portable decontamination unit, which helps VET members safely remove bacteria and debris from animals, allowed animal victims to be placed in a shelter or back in the homes of their families. The VET was deployed to the two counties and spent two weeks treating more than 100 animals—including livestock, cats, ducks, horses, and dogs—in the flooded community. Along with decontaminating animals that may have come into contact with toxic chemicals in the flood water, the team treated many other conditions, such as dehydration and submersion injuries.


VET members prepare for the return to campus.

Students say they found the experience rewarding and eye-opening. “Spending my time in Brazoria County was such an unforgettable experience. I gained so much knowledge in veterinary medicine from my time there,” said Heather Cook, a fourth-year veterinary student at the CVM. “The first couple of days I was deployed, I worked with small animals because I am focusing on small animal medicine. I gained a lot of experience performing physical examinations on dogs and cats, coming up with my own diagnoses and treatment plans. I also talked with clients about spaying, neutering, and vaccinating their pets, as well as putting them on heartworm and flea and tick prevention.”

When deployed by the state or county, the VET works with the county’s local veterinarians for extra supplies. AgriLife Extension is also included in the relief efforts to care for livestock, and shelters make sure the animals are kept safe and healthy until they can be returned to their owners.

VET members triage large animal flood victims during the Brazos River flooding.

“It’s a large group effort that we try to bring together. Linking with local veterinarians is crucial,” explained Dr. Deb Zoran, medical operations officer for the VET. “In Brazoria County, the local veterinarians came out to our base of operations and would bring things that we needed, such as supplies and equipment. They were out there almost every day, checking on us to make sure we were okay. The relationship between our team and local veterinarians is vital to our success.”

The VET’s formation was a result of Bissett’s dream and a group of passionate, caring Aggies who wanted to make a difference for people and their pets during emergency situations. The PETS Act of 2006 solidified the need for animals to be cared for in disasters, and the VET’s proven effectiveness led to the team’s expansion. Now, as one of the most seasoned veterinary emergency response teams in the country, the VET has demonstrated time and time again that it can be counted on to care for animals in crises.

Artists Edgar Sotelo and Tammie Bissett

Edgar Sotelo

I was born and raised in Old México and came to the states to go to college. My father was an artist and my grandfather was an artist. I remember sitting at the kitchen table as a 5 year-old kid sketching Cowboys and horses with my dad. At that early age, I started to show some talent. I have been developing that talent for the last 45 years. I did pencil drawings growing up. But my wife Michelle encouraged me to try oils in 1992. After I did, I fell in love with the medium!



Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Edgar Sotelo
Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Edgar Sotelo

We have three daughters; Alissa(18), Aleah (13), and Ava (11). They all show artistic talent. We have a small place outside of Sulphur Springs where my wife raises a few prospect performance quarter horses.

I feel that I am the luckiest man around because I get to do what I love to do. I am very passionate about my art. I love to paint anything that has to do with tradition. I like to paint what’s important to my collectors. I try to be true to my subject. I have to have a special connection with my subjects, because that will reflect the true character of the subject on the final piece. I am always fascinated by painting light and try to represent it through my own style.

I feel honored to be chosen to paint the centennial piece. Dr. Green had a vision to depict the past (tradition), the present, and what the new school will represent for future generations. I appreciated the thought behind it and the direction the selection committee wanted to take with the piece. It made it challenging, but with a lot of meaning!

I take commission work, and I welcome the opportunity to create a piece of art for new collectors. Some of my work hangs at the Texas A&M; University Equine Complex board room. And now, one of my best pieces is part of the permanent collection of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in the Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex. I am honored. Also, my oldest daughter is planning on attending Texas A&M; next year.

Tammie Bissett



Tammie Bissett and Dr. Eleanor M. Green
Tammie Bissett and Dr. Eleanor M. Green

I am originally from a small costal community near Port Lavaca, Texas. I married my high school sweetheart, Wesley T. Bissett, Jr. DVM, PhD, class of ’97. My days consist of designing-on paper, canvas or AutoCAD. I am an artist, a residential/commercial designer and general contractor. We live in College Station and have three amazing children that have wonderful spouses we claim as our own. Our daughter Whitney and her husband Kaleb Morton are the parents of our beautiful grandkids, Kaylynn and Karter(in the painting) of College Station. Our son, Wesley R. Bissett ’11 and his wife Terra (Hausenfluck) ’12 live in Portland, TX, and our son Landon Bissett and his wife Kaitlynn (Williams) live in College Station.

Like a runner that loves to run, I love the peaceful calmness within me when I paint. I always have music playing in the room as I paint, and I am mentally and physically in a wonderful place. I have always gravitated toward and strived to paint paintings that tell a story, that draw people into a world of their own. I credit God for giving me the talent I do have and my parents for letting me peruse my dreams.  I took art lessons from the age of 8-15 years old, then I stopped lessons because life took over. I painted commission pieces here and there as requested, but not until Wesley started vet school did I have the opportunity to paint full-time. I hope someday to be able to study under some of the greats-but until then, I am fortunate to have family and friends that can and will critique my paintings.

I was contacted by Dean Green a little over two years ago to kick around some ideas for the CVM centennial. She was already gearing up for this special occasion and had a vision of what she wanted. She gave me free reign to come up with a concept that I felt good about. My thoughts for this painting were to show something of the future in medicine and a piece of medical equipment that was suspended in mid air, only connected by the beam of light that you see shining from the ball while the veterinarian holds it close to the giraffe’s chest cavity and to her fingertip. My second thought was to show that anything was possible. So, I came up with the idea of a painting within a painting to give me the several layers I needed to tell my story. It is of two veterinarians making their after hour rounds, and they stepped into this painting bringing it to life as they check all the animals vitals, giving the animals a chance to play and stretch their legs and wings, whichever the case may be. This moment was unexpectedly caught by two children and their dog walking by. Capturing the compassion of all the animal groups toward one another and the wired hair dog was very important to me. Just like our veterinarians do everyday, they are showing compassion to all of our furry family friends. Every veterinarian should stand tall and proud because of everything they do and everything they accomplish in the animal and human health world. I am very proud to be married to one of them.

I have a very strong tie to this college, my husband is the class of 1997. We had the pleasure of going through vet school together with our three children. He was the student and we were his support system. Wesley is with the college now and is Director of the Texas A&M; Veterinary Emergency Team.

Anyone that would like to see some of Tammie’s artwork or any behind the scene pictures of this painting can go to Tammie Bissett or email tammie_bissett@yahoo.com. Tammie would love to hear from you or see pictures of anyone standing in front of any of the paintings or print.

In the Midst of Disaster Springs Hope

vet wimberley
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.



Torrential 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 evacuations.

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 003b


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 her home.

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 operations.

“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.

Healing August

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 helped.

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 privilege.”

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.

Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team Providing Support for Warrior’s Weekend Event

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Team members from the Texas A&M; Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) deployed to Port O’Connor, TX today to provide support for the 10th Annual Warrior’s Weekend. The event is a fundraising fishing tournament that supports veterans who were wounded in service to their country. Each year, soldiers injured in combat arrive in Port O’Connor from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and join other wounded soldiers who arrived earlier from military installations from all across the country.

VET Wounded WarriorsMany of the soldiers participating are accompanied by service dogs. At this year’s event, it is anticipated there will be approximately 50 dogs attending with their owners. The VET was asked to provide veterinary support to these special canines, as the closest small animal veterinarians are 45 minutes away.

“The dogs that come with these soldiers are special,” said Dr. Deb Zoran, medical operations chief for the VET. “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.”

The participants begin the day with a welcome rally and then are treated to a day of coastal fishing with a weigh-in of the day’s catch. The tournament concludes with a dinner, including music and presentations by military dignitaries in celebration of these soldiers and their service.

“This is a large event supporting our troops,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director of the VET. “Our team’s motto is to serve our state and nation every day, and it is truly an honor to be asked to participate in this event in support of these soldiers and the dogs who continue serving by their soldier’s side.”

The Texas A&M; Veterinary Emergency Team formed in 2010. The motto of the team is “Serving our state and nation every day.” This is accomplished by deploying the largest and most sophisticated veterinary medical disaster response team in the country; developing and providing cutting-edge emergency management education; developing new knowledge in emergency preparedness education and response; and building on the legacy of service that is at the heart of Texas A&M; University. For more information on the Texas A&M; VET, visit their website at vetmed.tamu.edu/vet.

Founded in 2007, Warrior’s Weekend is a non-profit, 501(c) 3 corporation dedicated to the support of veterans of The United States of America with an emphasis on those wounded in The Global War on Terrorism. This is accomplished through holding an annual fishing event for wounded military personnel in May in Port O’Connor, TX as well as donations to veterans and veterans-based causes.

Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Hosts Congressman Bill Flores

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – U.S. Representative Bill Flores visited the Texas A&M; College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) on May 3. The CVM was honored to host Congressman Flores’ first tour of the CVM’s facilities. He toured the Small Animal Hospital, the Diagnostic Imaging & Cancer Treatment Center, the Large Animal Hospital, the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) vehicles, and caught a glimpse of the new Veterinary Biomedical Education Complex (VBEC). He learned about the many ways the world-renowned veterinary college serves Texas and impacts the nation.

20160519_Flores Visit


flores visit
Congressman Bill Flores, Dr. Eleanor M. Green, and Student Ambassador Alex Casas

Flores is serving in his third term representing the 17th Congressional District of Texas, which covers portions of Central Texas from Waco to Bryan/College Station to north Austin. For the 114th Congress, Flores was elected by his fellow conservative colleagues to serve as Chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest caucus in the U.S. Congress and an influential group of House Republicans committed to economic opportunity, national security, fiscal responsibility, American values, and limited government. Additionally, Flores serves on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“It was educational for me to be able to tour the Texas A&M;’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences facility and to learn more about the great work and incredible advancements being done in animal medicine,” Flores said. “My visit was informative, interesting, and fun. The work taking place at the college is helping shape the future of the 21st Century for both animal and human healthcare.”

Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine, and Michael O’Quinn, vice president for government relations at the Texas A&M; University System were present to host Congressman Flores, as he toured the CVM facilities. “We were truly honored to welcome Congressman Flores to the CVM,” Green said. “He always takes the time to interact with his constituents, whether in Washington D.C. or in College Station. At the CVM, he took time to speak with our students, staff, and faculty. He toured our hospitals, saw our latest technology, visited our emergency veterinary trailers, and even had a chance to meet a few of our clients. This visit was an excellent follow up to his presence and speaking role at the legislative reception in D.C. this past March in recognition of the CVM Centennial.”

Congressman Flores was provided a brochure outlining the details of the CVM’s Texas Veterinary Medical Center (TVMC) statewide partnerships designed for “Serving Every Texan Every Day.” The TVMC network includes partnerships between the CVM and four Texas A&M; System universities: West Texas A&M; University, Prairie View A&M; University, Texas A&M; University-Kingsville, and Tarleton State University to meet all of the veterinary needs in Texas through education, research, outreach, and undergraduate collaborations in these regions of the state.

“We welcomed the opportunity to discuss our college with Congressman Flores as we continue to address the needs of the veterinary profession across the state,” Green said. “Our goal was to introduce him to both the depth and breadth of what all we do here at the CVM as well as how the CVM serves and impacts Texas.”

Texas A&M University Hosts NASAAEP Annual Summit

COLLEGE STATION, TX – The National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) asked the Texas A&M; Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), in only its fourth year of membership, to host the 2016 annual summit. The event brought representatives from government agricultural agencies, animal health organizations, and veterinary colleges from across the United States gathered at Texas A&M; University to hear presentations on the latest efforts and issues relating to animal and agricultural emergency response.

The VET trailer outside of the Memorial Student Center
The VET trailer outside of the Memorial Student Center

Topics presented at this year’s summit included planning for animal issues in a disaster, infectious disease response, sheltering of animals in an emergency situation, building veterinary capacity through pubic/private partnerships, animal decontamination is a disaster, and the support of search and rescue canines during a deployment. An additional highlight included a panel discussion on the VET’s involvement in the Ebola response in 2014. For a complete list of presentations, go to www.nasaaep.org/summithome.htm.

“All too recently we have seen the impact that disasters have on animals and their owners,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director of the Texas A&M; VET. “We are fortunate to have organizations such as NASAAEP that bring all the stakeholders in animal and agricultural emergency response to the table to build partnerships and develop plans to provide for the rescue, treatment, and sheltering of animals before and during a disaster event. As one of the newer members of NASAAEP, it is our honor to host this year’s summit and to participate in so many presentations and discussions. Cooperation and collaboration are the way we will improve our ability to respond to animals need.”

The VET displayed their vehicles and response equipment in the plaza by Rudder Fountain outside the Memorial Student Center on main campus for attendees and others to tour. On the last day attendees were provided a tour of Disaster City.

“Disaster City is truly a benchmark in responder training environments, and it’s located right here at Texas A&M;,” said Dr. Deb Zoran, chief medical officer for the Texas A&M; VET. “One of our strongest relationships is with Texas Task Force–1 Urban Search & Rescue team, who call Disaster City home. We have the privilege of working side by side with their team and their search and rescue canines when training at Disaster City and on deployment. Relationships like this are important because in a disaster environment, it’s not just resident animals that are in harm’s way.”

The conference concluded on Thursday, May 19th.

NASAAEP is an organization of government agencies, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations dedicated to responding to animal needs in a disaster. The members are responsible for emergency planning and response for all animals–large and small–at the state and national levels. All state agencies (United States Department of Agriculture, and the infectious disease response unit from the National Animal Health Emergency Response Commission) have representation in NASAAEP, as well as animal rescue and sheltering groups, such as the American Humane Society and the Humane Society of the United States.

The Texas A&M; Veterinary Emergency Team formed in 2010. The motto of the team is “Serving our state and nation every day.” This is accomplished by deploying the largest and most sophisticated veterinary medical disaster response team in the country, developing and providing cutting edge emergency management education, development of new knowledge in emergency preparedness education and response, and building on the legacy of service that is at the heart of Texas A&M; University.

Three Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Faculty Recognized with University-Level Distinguished Achievement Awards

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The Texas A&M; Association of Former Students (AFS) honored three members of the Texas A&M; College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) faculty with University-Level Distinguished Achievement Awards, one of the highest honors presented by the AFS. Dr. Wesley Bissett, associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (VLCS) and director of the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET); Dr. Jeffery M.B. Musser, clinical professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB); and Dr. Ashley Saunders, associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) were announced as this year’s honorees from the CVM.

Recipients are recognized for their efforts in one of several categories: teaching; research; staff; student relations; administration; extension, outreach, continuing education, and professional development; and graduate mentoring.

Bissett earned the award in recognition of his excellence in the extension, outreach, continuing education, and professional development category. Musser and Saunders were awarded based on excellence in the teaching category.

“The CVM is fortunate to have such dedicated faculty whose work plays a critical role in the success of our college,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “This is an exciting honor for Drs. Bissett, Musser, and Saunders. These three leaders contribute to the CVM in a unique and meaningful way and help facilitate a welcoming and productive educational environment.”

Dr. Wesley Bissett


Dr. Wesley Bissett
Dr. Wesley Bissett

Bissett earned his DVM in 1997 and his Ph.D. in veterinary microbiology in 2007, both from Texas A&M; University. His primary interests are in veterinary emergency response, environmental health, epidemiology, and public health. As director of the VET, he oversees and leads the VET’s rescue efforts.

“I have never seen anyone more passionate about his work than Wesley Bissett is about the VET,” said Dr. Allen Roussel, department head of VLCS. “Dr. Bissett took the VET from an idea spawned in the wake of Hurricane Rita to the largest, best equipped, and most successful veterinary emergency response team in the USA. Through selfless dedication and endless hours of work, he and his team have assembled an unparalleled emergency response unit that touches the lives of animals and human beings every day. While they have performed incredible service on deployments to areas in need, their greatest contribution to the state and the country is working with county officials to develop local emergency response plans and training future veterinary leaders, who will bring emergency preparedness wherever they go. Witnessing the passion and dedication of Wesley Bissett and the successful outcome of his efforts has been one of the highlights of my career as a department head.”

Dr. Jeffery Musser


Dr. Jeffery Musser
Dr. Jeffery Musser

Musser joined the CVM faculty in 2000 and has won several awards at the CVM, including the 2003 Montague Teaching Excellence Award, the 2005 Texas Veterinary Medical Association Research Award, and the 2007 Texas A&M; University International Excellence Award. He has also been nominated twice by the CVM for the Bush Excellence Award for Faculty in International Teaching. With an interest in global veterinary medicine and emerging infectious diseases, Musser has worked diligently to provide opportunities for Texas A&M; students to intern overseas in Zambia, Malawi, Norway, Australia, Ghana, and Ecuador. In addition, he has taught several study abroad courses.

“In veterinary medicine, we are lucky to have so many caring, passionate, and outstanding teachers, making it difficult to single out a few for special recognition,” said Dr. Roger Smith, interim head of VTPB. “Musser’s passion for students is obvious to all who see him in a classroom, laboratory, or any student gathering. His love of students, combined with his creative teaching, makes him truly deserving of this recognition.”

Dr. Ashley Saunders

Saunders has been with the CVM since 2005 as a clinical assistant professor, where she focuses on cardiac issues in small animals, including congenital heart disease and heart failure management. In the Small Animal Cardiology Service,

Dr. Ashley Saunders
Dr. Ashley Saunders

Saunders works closely with veterinary students in the hospital to prepare them for difficult and complex cases. She is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (subspecialty cardiology) and has been widely recognized for her teaching, having won several other awards. Her teaching awards include the Bridges Teaching and Service Award in 2011 and the Richard H. Davis Teaching Award in 2010; she was also named a Montague Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar in 2009. Additionally, she is the assistant department head for teaching in VSCS.

“Ashley Saunders is a superstar. She is an outstanding clinician-scientist, who is a truly gifted educator,” said Dr. Jonathan Levine, department head of VSCS. “By fusing her passion for teaching, novel technologies, and scholarship, she is defining veterinary education in the 21st century.”

Each honoree will receive a framed certificate from the AFS along with a $4,000 monetary award in a ceremony scheduled for Monday, April 25 at 1:30 pm in Rudder Theater. The awards, begun in 1955, recognize outstanding members of Texas A&M’s faculty and staff for their commitment, performance, and positive impact on Aggie students, Texas citizens, and the world around them.

Taking caring to another level: A collaborative effort

Scientists face many uncertainties about Ebola and dogs, although most agree that there is not evidence dogs develop clinical disease. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say no cases have been reported of dogs becoming infected and shedding Ebola to humans-even in West Africa. However, a study in the March 2005 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases suggests dogs can contract the virus and do develop antibodies. Due to their fear of the virus spreading throughout Europe, Madrid authorities euthanized the dog of Madrid Ebola patient Teresa Romero Ramos.

Nina Pham, Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Bentley, and Pham's mother, Diana


Nina Pham, Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Bentley, and Pham’s mother, Diana
Nina Pham, Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Bentley, and Pham’s mother, Diana

A week after the events in Madrid, nurse Nina Pham contracted Ebola while caring for a patient in Dallas, and authorities in Texas had to decide what to do with Pham’s dog, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Bentley. Experts came together to make decisions and assemble the right team. Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M; University, was part of a collaboration that included the CDC, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), the Governor’s Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, Dallas Animal Services, the City of Dallas, and the Texas A&M; University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and its Veterinary Emergency Team (VET).

The decision was made to have the VET deploy to Dallas to care for Bentley during his 21-day isolation-the incubation period of Ebola. Dr. Tammy Beckham, who at the time was director of the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases, or IIAD, a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, took the first shift caring for Bentley until members of the VET arrived. Dr. Wesley Bissett, founder and director of the VET, and Dr. Deb Zoran, VET chief medical officer, left for Dallas without hesitation. They knew caring for Bentley would be stressful and complicated, but as leaders of the largest and most sophisticated veterinary medical disaster response team in the country, they were confident they could do the job safely.

The support Bissett and Zoran received from colleagues in the VET, the CVM, and Texas A&M; epitomized Aggie Spirit. When Bissett first discussed the deployment with Green, her first reaction was to ask him about his wife’s opinion. “I’m 53 years old, and I’ve done a lot of different things,” said Bissett, who used to work in the oil field, away from home and doing dangerous work. “But I have not once had anybody that was sending me into those situations ask me, ‘What did your wife say?’ and to me that was a big deal.”

Caring for Bentley

The team worked inside a small room of an empty 1920s-era house in a decommissioned military complex near Dallas. Zoran was covered head to toe, wearing a bright yellow hazmat suit, a powered air-purifying respirator, and protective boots and gloves. In the room, plastic wrapping protected the floor. Reporters filmed and shot pictures through a glass window, but the members of the VET were among the few who entered the house.

“We are an all hazard response team, and we have the equipment, the training, and the expertise,” Bissett said. “We can build a very powerful response in a community affected by disaster- whether that’s an Ebola case, a fertilizer plant explosion, a historic wildfire, a tornado, or a hurricane.”

Still, before seeing Bentley, Bissett and Zoran knew little about Ebola in dogs. “Our testing protocol was totally based on the human protocol, because we don’t know what happens with dogs,” Zoran said. Getting infected was a potential risk. “Had [Bentley] been positive, when we came back we would have been in quarantine- and that was going to have an impact,” Zoran continued.

Bissett and Zoran had arrived at the house-turned quarantinefacility on October 16. They stayed there for about two weeks, collecting and sending blood, urine, and stool samples twice (on days eight and 16) to a laboratory for diagnostic tests. To reduce stress due to isolation, Zoran often played with Bentley.

Bentley stayed in a room that was previously the kitchen of the house. That room was designated “the hot zone,” or the zone with most potential for exposure, Zoran said. A door connected with the dining room, which was designated the “warm zone,” where Bissett and Zoran removed their personal protective equipment. Going in and out of the hot zone, they both checked each other to ensure all equipment was properly worn and the protocol was strictly followed without cutting corners or taking shortcuts. “I depended on her, and she depended on me,” Bissett said.

An Extraordinary Deployment

Bissett and Zoran were concerned with the possibility of Bentley testing positive. “I don’t know what the decision would have been,” Bissett said. “Certainly euthanasia was one of the things on the table.” He explained, however, he would have proposed continuing testing until clearing the disease. Zoran nodded in full agreement: “There would have been a huge opportunity to answer some questions, but we had no idea of what would have happened because there was a lot of pressure, different arguments for risk, and all kinds of issues.”

Although Bentley tested negative for the virus, unanswered questions remain about Ebola in dogs. “It would have been nice to learn more, but maybe Bentley was not even exposed,” Bissett said. He added, “Maybe he was exposed and dogs don’t shed the virus-or maybe he was exposed and he shed the virus at an earlier time.” Further, studying Bentley would have required extremely secure biosafety level (BSL) 4 facilities. And once an animal enters a BSL 4 facility, it can never leave, Zoran explained.

Despite the complexity of Bentley’s case, Bissett and Zoran said the most important aspect was reuniting Bentley with Pham. “The number of days we were away, the amount of time we got behind in our jobs, the number of people we disappointed because we weren’t at their defenses or at their lectures-those were the downsides,” Zoran said. Still, they both said it was well worth it.

Pham left the hospital on October 24. Both virus-free, Bentley and Pham reunited on November 1, 2014. Pham grinned from cheek to cheek as she hugged Bentley, and he jumped and wagged his tail in excitement. “It feels like Christmas, literally,” Pham said in an interview with ABC News. “It’s just such a joyous occasion and one step closer to my feeling whole again during this recovery process.”

“This has really been quite an extraordinary deployment,” said Bissett. “In all honesty, this is one that I would have never imagined. I know there are only two of us who are physically here, but the reality is that we are all here. We have all worked toward this very point where we are today. We are all standing behind Nina and Bentley.”

Dr. Wesley Bissett, Dr. Deb Zoran, and Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine, were part of an Ebola panel at The 65th Annual James Steel Conference on Diseases in Nature Transmissible to Man, The panel included representatives from many of the organizations involved in managing Bentley’s case, such as the CDC, Texas Animal Health Commission, Dallas Animal Sercives, and the CVM.

Collaboration on the Front Lines

When disaster strikes, animals and people are put in harm’s way, and a strong collaborative response effort must be launched to save lives and put families and communities on the road to recovery. Those called into action represent a wide scope of experience and expertise, including law enforcement, fire fighting, search and rescue teams, medical personnel, service and support organizations, government agencies, and, more recently, veterinary medicine. The diversity of response organizations and the disasters to which they respond have led to one of the nation’s most distinctive collaborative efforts, housed at Texas A&M University.

VET CollaborationSearch and rescue teams working in Louisiana and the upper Texas coast in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 were faced with not only rescuing a significant number of stranded survivors, but also dealing with the animals that had been left behind or were stranded with their owners. As a further complication, the environmental conditions in which these special teams worked put additional stress on both the human team members and their canine partners.

Following these two disasters, legislation was enacted that dictated companion animals must be considered and provided for in the event of a disaster. How this was to be accomplished was not defined and was left to individual jurisdictions to decide.

“After Katrina, the PETS [Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act] legislation was passed stating that no one would be left behind because of a companion animal,” said Jeff Saunders, operations chief at Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1). “That is fine for the people who are home with their pets, but many times we find that the people have evacuated or couldn’t return to their residence because of a mandatory evacuation, but the animals are still there. In those cases, search and rescue teams, such as ours, are usually the first to locate these animals.”

Hurricane Rita and, later, Hurricane Ike brought a large volume of evacuees from the coastal areas to Texas A&M seeking shelter from the storms. During Rita, the Large Animal Hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) was turned into a human surge hospital within 72 hours of notice. Following that event, faculty, staff, and students from the college worked collaboratively with representatives from the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences to set up both a large animal shelter (at the Brazos County Expo Center) and a companion animal shelter at (Texas A&M’s Riverside Campus) to house pets and livestock evacuated from the coast in the face of Hurricane Ike. The need for veterinarians to play a role in disaster response was readily apparent.

Collaboration on the front lines“The emphasis on pets and livestock impacted by these disasters underscored the need to include veterinarians in the response discussion,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, associate professor in Large Animal Clinical Sciences and director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET). “As the only college of veterinary medicine in the state of Texas, and as a part of a land-grant university, it was our responsibility to find ways to be part of the solution to address animal issues in disaster.”

Bissett didn’t have to turn far to find assistance in developing what has become one of the largest and most sophisticated veterinary emergency response organizations in the country. Immediately after Hurricane Ike, he began conversations with the world-renowned TX-TF1, a response agency that also calls Texas A&M home. From there, what began as a conversation has led to a collaborative effort that not only addresses animals in disaster situations but also ensures the health and welfare of those animals that serve side by side with their human response partners.

“First and foremost, the power of this collaboration, what makes it unique and special, is that it is the only one in the country that we know of,” said Saunders. “Other teams have veterinarians that deploy with their personnel, but nothing is as robust and effective as TX-TF1 and the VET. Now, as our teams come across stranded animals, we are able to GPS the location to local animal control or to the VET. This helps alleviate some of the loose or stranded pet issues by working as a team with other response groups, and we can still focus on our search and rescue efforts.”

Saunders and his team recognized from their extensive deployment experience the need for veterinary support on the ground to assist in assessing loose and stranded animals and evacuating them to a shelter or veterinary hospital where they could be reunited with their owners.

“Working in disaster situations requires an integrated response,” said Bissett. “From that perspective, as a response team, we have the veterinary expertise, but we also had much to learn about becoming a true response unit. We were fortunate to find a response partner the caliber of TX-TF1 to help guide us as we began to mature to the point where we are now.”

While the PETS legislation placed the focus on loose and stranded companion animals, another member of TX-TF1 recognized the value of working with the VET, but for a different reason. Susann Brown, search team manager for TX-TF1, coordinates the training and deployment calls for the canine search and rescue teams that serve with TX-TF1. The hazardous environments in which these teams operate have always presented medical concerns for Brown and these special team members. Collaborating with the VET represented a new opportunity to further ensure the safety and well-being of these working dogs.

Collaboration on the front linesDr. Deb Zoran, medical operations chief for the VET, had been working with Brown since the late 1990s as the on-call veterinarian for pre-deployment exams for the search and rescue dogs. In addition, she provided first-aid lectures to the handlers during Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) training weekends.

“As the VET developed, and we created our fourth year rotation for veterinary medical students, we asked Susann about becoming their training partner and supporting the handler/canine teams when they had their bimonthly training sessions at Disaster City,” Zoran said. “This step represented that continuing evolution of two groups of people who were committed to the idea and finally found a way to make things work.”

Zoran added that most of the injuries from the training sessions come from the high drive of the working dogs, so it’s important to have that awareness and understanding of what the risks are, whether in a training rubble pile or on a deployment. The search and rescue dogs are asked to work in demanding and hazardous environments that are often contaminated, and while the handlers are able to wear personal protective equipment, the dogs cannot.

“The two greatest medical concerns for our dogs are injury and heat stress, and we have had problems with both,” said Brown. “Most of the injuries we have seen have been minor scrapes and cuts, but even a minor pad injury can make it difficult for a search dog to continue working. Heat stress is a much more pervasive problem and can put a dog out of commission for multiple shifts. Prior to working more closely with the VET, we have worked with medical personnel on our team to address the medical needs for both human and canine task force members.”

In 2011, most of Texas was experiencing some of the hottest and driest conditions recorded to date. Wildfires seemed to spring up in multiple places across the state, but the most memorable were the Bastrop Complex Wildfires. Started by what is believed to have been downed power lines sparking into the dried pine trees in the area, three separate fires burned together into one large blaze near the city of Bastrop, Texas, and destroyed more than 1500 homes. The canine search and rescue teams were asked to deploy and operate in this fiery environment, unlike any they had previously faced.

In this deployment, the standard booties available to search and rescue dogs were uncomfortable, and most of the dogs were able to remove them during operation. However, the VET was able to develop a unique booting solution that enabled the dogs to continue working on the hot ground while still protecting the sensitive pads of their feet.

Brown noted that solutions such as these are part of that depth of knowledge and expertise the members of the VET bring to the deployment.

“Having the VET on scene with us has made a tremendous difference in our ability to keep our dogs healthy and working during deployments. The members of the VET are able to quickly diagnose injuries and illness in our dogs, and can also provide recommendations concerning the risk of potential contaminants or hazards and possible ways to mitigate those risks.”

Caring for the search and rescue dogs as part of the collaboration between the VET and TX-TF1 is no small task. According to Saunders, there are 15 canine handlers, ten of whom are certified Canine Search Team – Live Find (pairing of a handler with a dog) and five of which are certified Canine Search Team – Human Remains Detection. In addition, canine teams from all across the country representing 68 participating agencies bring their dogs to Disaster City in College Station for training and FEMA certification dates.

“These canine/handler teams are very dedicated to their job,” Zoran said. “The selfless service they provide is awesome because this is not their ‘day job’; they all have other jobs and other lives. The amount of time and energy and money they give to become FEMA US&R; [Urban Search and Rescue] certified handler/canine teams is unbelievable. They are special people with very special dogs. To be considered working with them and caring for their dogs is one of the most humbling and gratifying things I can imagine.”

Because of the significant investment of time and training that each handler puts into getting a dog certified as a search and rescue dog, Brown emphasized the value of veterinary support for those training days as well as in the field.

“Much of the incidental cost of getting a dog FEMA certified is the responsibility of the handler,” said Brown. “These handlers travel to College Station at least once a month for training, but will also travel to other locations to provide their dogs a variety of search areas to train in. It is difficult to put an exact figure on the handler’s training time and expenses, but it is significant. Having a partnership that allows veterinary support during training at our location has become a great value to the team.”

As the capacity and capabilities of the VET have evolved, the nature of the collaboration between these response partners has also grown to include the development of a Large Animal Technical Rescue training program designed to educate first responders and veterinarians on the tactics and skills necessary to safely rescue large animals in crisis.

“The impact of disasters is not limited to people and pets,” said Bissett. “Texas is number one in the nation in the numbers of cattle and horses. There are also livestock concerns in other parts of the country as well. Working with our response partners at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), we have been able to certify trainers and to supplement the curriculum for a dynamic large animal rescue course that will ensure first responders and veterinarians will have access to the knowledge and skills needed to rescue large animals in a safe and humane manner.”

Beginning with early efforts at Large Animal Technical Rescue training in 2008, the interest in and need for a more focused effort has been recognized. In 2012, the first class fully integrating veterinary medicine with first responders was presented by a team from the University of California at Davis led by Dr. John Madigan and coordinated by Dr. Leslie Easterwood, clinical assistant professor in Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the CVM and member of the VET.

“Large Animal Technical Rescue is a chapter in the FEMA First Responder certification curriculum,” said Easterwood. “Our objective from the very beginning was to develop a team of instructors made up of VET and TEEX members that would be able to present the course to first responders and veterinarians.”

After the initial course in 2012, interest in certification grew. In 2014, John Haven, head of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and director of the Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service at the University of Florida, and assistant instructor Josh Fleming came to Texas A&M to provide instructor certification training to identified members of the VET and TEEX. The four-day course consisted of two days of instructor training followed by an additional two days where those being certified as instructors were given the opportunity to instruct others.

“Attending the class and developing our instructional skills in the field together with our partners in TEEX gave us the opportunity to better understand the perspectives and expertise across disciplines,” said Christopher Mabry, logistics supervisor and graduate student. “Our team members benefitted from learning more about the safety and logistics needed for operating in the field from the first responders’ experience, while at the same time, the first responders learned more about the health and welfare concerns of animals that are needing to be rescued.

According to Easterwood, approximately eight VET members attended the course. In addition, David Rosier, training coordinator for TEEX, noted that eight TEEX instructors were also certified.

“The goal of this program was to bring together the rescue profession and the veterinary profession to provide safe rescue of animals in need,” said Rosier. “The class was truly a joint effort that enabled both to give their expertise to the class. Our students in future sessions will be emergency services such as law enforcement, fire service, animal control, veterinarians, large animal facility operators, animal rescue groups, large animal transporters, and potentially large/small animal owners. Combining rescue knowledge with animal care expertise will allow us to all work together during a rescue.”

The first course in Large Animal Technical Rescue will be offered as part of the Spring Fire School that TEEX hosts every year, and the newly certified instructors from both TEEX and the VET will teach portions of the course.

“This will allow for the strengths of both groups to be used to teach different parts of the course,” said Easterwood, “which makes the course relevant to both first responders and veterinarians.”

Disasters, large or small, may strike at any time, and the animals and their owners feel the impact whether it’s a single pet or a large herd of cattle. With a mission of “serving our state and nation every day,” the leadership of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team will continue to build productive collaborations and partnerships, which will enhance the ability to respond to those animals in need.