Humility. Servant Leadership. Selflessness. These are just a few of the words I use to describe the leaders of the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET). As students, we learn veterinary medicine from these leaders every day in clinics, but rarely do we have the opportunity to witness such selfless acts of community service and leadership away from the hospitals. These are attributes that we, as a society, expect every veterinarian to have, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be mentored by veterinarians and veterinary technicians while they are serving in this capacity. Never do they ask for credit or recognition and never do they ask for anything in return. I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve man and animals as a student of these heroic leaders.
Every veterinarian will face emergency situations, whether in their own ERs or in the case of a natural disaster like this one. It is rare that you are completely prepared for what you will face. Participating in this response gave us the opportunity to work under pressure, to address life-threatening injuries, and to adapt in an environment that did not provide all of the supplies and equipment that we become accustomed to in the teaching hospitals. We had to think and react quickly, make smart decisions, and help in any way that we could. Teamwork was essential for the success of this effort and learning where we fit into that team and how we could best contribute was a life lesson in itself. We all want to be leaders and up to this point, most of us have been, but this was a time to step back and ask ourselves, in what capacity can I be most useful to this team.
Training for an incident like this was training in triage, organizational structure, crisis communication, emergency management, and safety. All of that training was put to good use during this response effort. The third-year elective, the online training courses, and the practice exercise in April were all hugely successful in giving the students an idea of what to expect in this type of situation.
“Most importantly, this response showed us how strong the human-animal bond is and how critical our role is in protecting that bond.”
Most importantly, this response showed us how strong the human-animal bond is and how critical our role is in protecting that bond. From the firemen who took comfort in knowing there was someone there to resuscitate the suffering animals that were found, to the members of TTF-1 whose dogs are truly their best friends and protectors, having someone to care for those dogs and keep those key members of their team healthy and strong throughout the rescue effort. Each of us was able to identify at least one animal who touched our hearts, one that we would have driven to Austin to adopt from the humane society, had it not found its owner. Watching that facebook page and finally seeing a picture of a human’s smiling face as they cuddled with the only thing they have left after this fire destroyed their lives, brought tears to all of our eyes. We need those reminders. Reminders of how important our job is to so many people, of how many lives we touch on a daily basis, of how many people respect us and expect us to do the right thing, and of how privileged we are to have the ability to help when a family or our entire community is in need.