After Treating 6,000 Animals In Need, VET Team Has Good Reason To Celebrate
The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) is having its 10th anniversary next month, and the one-of-a-kind unit has plenty of reasons to celebrate: it’s treated more than 6,000 animals during numerous disaster situations and provided immeasurable relief to their owners.
The VET is the country’s largest and most sophisticated disaster response team, providing medical support to animals in need as a result of natural or man-made disasters. Since its formation 10 years ago, it has deployed 18 times in Texas and was also asked last year for assistance during the Paradise, Calif., wildfires, and its team of dedicated veterinarians has treated and saved the lives of thousands of animals.
Dr. Wes Bissett has been the VET leader during all of that time, and he said the team, which falls under the guidance of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, has been a tremendous asset to the state of Texas.
“We’ve treated all kinds of animals in all kinds of disaster situations,” Bissett said.
“Hurricanes, such as Harvey, and wildfires, severe flooding events, mistreatment of animals – we’ve seen all kinds of events where our services are needed. We are committed to serving the needs of Texas.”
Bissett said the team sees virtually every type of injury that can affect animals but notes that flooding events are often the most difficult to handle.
Texas has experienced several disastrous rainfall events in the past few years and the team is often called upon to treat animals who have been in rivers or creeks for days without help.
“Several times, we have seen horses who have been in the water for two to three days, and their condition is terrible – they’ve been in the water so long, their skin falls off,” Bissett said. “It’s really hard to even look at, but we’ve managed to treat most of them and return them to their owners in good shape. That’s the most rewarding part of this job – to be able to treat an injured animal and return it to its owner. It’s a very satisfying feeling for all of us.”
Bissett recalled an incident in 2011 during the Bastrop wildfires that burned thousands of acres, and the team was deployed to the area for about a week.
A man whose house had been burned down came to him with two cats who had been badly burned and needed immediate help.
“He told me, ‘We’ve lost our house, we’ve lost our goats and our dogs, we’ve lost everything but these cats. Can you please help us?’ and he started to cry on my shoulder,” Bissett said. “We managed to save them and returned them to him and his family, and it was a big moment for all of us. You don’t forget moments like those.”
Bissett said in the past 10 years, the VET has gone from one vehicle to 16, which includes trucks and trailers that essentially serve as mobile clinics, support vehicles and others used for logistics, and they are very much-needed: during Hurricane Harvey, the team was spread out over 10 communities from Rockport to Beaumont while treating injured animals.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension also plays a key role in VET deployments, Bissett added.
In addition, student assistance plays a big part in VET situations, and he noted that veterinary students have been involved in all but two of the 18 deployments.
“The students absolutely love it,” Bissett said. “They see and treat every kind of injury, they see how people want the best for their animals and what both the animals and owners go through. It’s the greatest learning experience they will ever have, and all of them tell us that. We definitely need students on these trips.
“The past 10 years have been memorable for all of us,” Bissett said.
“We have a great staff, and it’s very rewarding to know that we are helping people who are going through one of the worst experiences of their lives.”