Health & Environment

Veterinary Emergency Team Returns From California Deployment

Texas A&M VET Director Dr. Wesley Bissett discusses the team's efforts caring for animals displaced by wildfires in Butte County.
By Aubrey Bloom, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences October 29, 2020

woman wearing maroon shirt that says TAMU V.E.T. faces a dry field with back to camera
The Veterinary Emergency Team treated more than 500 animals in California on its recent deployment.

Aubrey Bloom/Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences


Members of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team and agents from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension returned Saturday from a month-long deployment to Butte County, California, where they cared for more than 500 animals displaced by ongoing wildfires.

Dr. Wesley Bisset is the director of the team, which provides medical support to animals in response to natural and manmade disasters. On its most recent deployment, the team was asked to treat animals in distress due to wildfires in the area. Bissett spoke with the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences about the team’s work in California.

Texas A&M CVMBS: What was the most challenging part of this response?

Bissett: The most challenging part was going into a mature response that had been ongoing for several weeks and assuming Butte County’s plan as the mode of operation. There are always adjustments that need to be made, and in this case it was centered in their thoughts on transitioning from a short-term to a long-term sheltering event. The reality is that you have to start every operation as if it’s one that will be ongoing for a while. My reasoning is that you have to hit all of the marks, information integrity, biosecurity, and consistency of medical care from the start. If you do not, then there are always problems that are created and must be dealt with.

What was the most interesting story or case from this deployment?

There are so many things to choose from here; interesting medical cases, stories of close escapes, and successful operations. The most interesting stories for me always revolve around the reunions of people who have lost everything with their pets. We certainly had many of those in this response, but what sticks out were several people searching for their dog.

They had lost their home and simply did not have time to get their pets out. They had seen pictures of animals without identified owners on the Butte County website and thought that one was of their dog. We knew by the descriptions and location where the animal was rescued that this was not the case, but we went ahead and allowed them to come and see the dogs we had in person and they recognized that we did not have their dog.

So why is this interesting? The person cried but then said, “At least I know I have done everything I can to find him.” People need that closure in the aftermath of being impacted by a disaster. The best-case scenario is a reunion, but even not having success but having that “I did all I can” moment is a step toward recovery. Animals are inherently worth our efforts in emergency response but the reality what we do is also for the human condition, it is for the people.

What’s the biggest difference between an out-of-state deployment and a typical VET deployment?

Probably the biggest difference is simply the resources we have on-hand at our disposal when we deploy within Texas. Between mobile medical platforms, supply trailers and other resources, we are used to deploying with a significant supply of everything we might need. When we step off a plane, we don’t have any of that.

I have to give credit to our logistics person Garrett Carr, because he was constantly on the phone with veterinarians, the county offices and a number of other people to get us the supplies we needed, especially on the medical side.

What is your most positive memory from this deployment?

There are two things that stick out. The first is trust that Butte County had in us. This was developed during the 2018-19 Camp Fire response. We had to, in that deployment, work on earning their trust, as we were an unknown entity to them. This time it was different. They immediately trusted that we as individuals, and as an organization, would bring a consistency of leadership, compassion and excellence in veterinary medical care.

The second memory is of how well it works when the Texas A&M VET and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension deploy as a blended team. We each have different strengths and it makes for the best response. Texas A&M and emergency management go together, and our two teams are just part of that picture. The reality is that Texas A&M is founded in service, especially during difficult times, so it is a natural fit.

Media contact: Aubrey Bloom, 979-862-2489,

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