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Texas A&M veterinary team helps animals affected by California fires
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Texas A&M veterinary team helps animals affected by California fires

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A team of veterinarians and support staff from Texas A&M University is spending the month of October in California as the state continues to battle devastating wildfires.

Nine members of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team and six representatives from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are providing operational management and medical support for emergency animal shelters, VET Director Wesley Bissett said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the deployment of the team to Butte County, California, to help care for animals displaced by the wildfires, support ill and injured animals and help reunite animals with their owners.

Bissett said through the deployment, the team expects to treat burn injuries, dehydration and stress-related health issues in small and large animals. Wildlife rehabilitation may also be included at some point, he said, but has not been necessary so far.

Bissett, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M, said the team arrived Sept. 26 and began work immediately, in part because of the team’s established relationship with Butte County officials after deploying to the same area in December 2018 in response to the Camp Fire, which destroyed much of the town of Paradise, California.

Bissett said last week that he was happy with how the deployment has been going and the team is happy to be able to help a community in need.

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“It is very, very good to be able to come in and to see them relax because they know that we’re going to come in, we’re going to do what we say and we’re going to do a good job with doing what we do,” Bissett said.

The members of the team have years of training to prepare them for just such a situation, Bissett said.

“Texas is always ready to answer the call to help our fellow Americans in their time of need,” Abbott said in a statement announcing the deployment. “The dedicated men and women of VET and AgriLife will help strengthen California’s efforts to rescue and provide care for animals displaced by the fires.”

Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M vet school and a member of the team, was in Oregon last month to assist with search and rescue dogs who were working in areas burned by wildfire. The team also deployed to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Laura to help animals impacted by the storm.

“I’m a veterinarian, I think animals are inherently worth that effort to respond to their injuries that are affected by disasters,” Bissett said. The team also helps bring some assurance to wildfire victims who have been through what Bissett called the worst day of their lives.​

“We have seen so many times now, if we can be there to take care of their animals, well, that’s one thing they don’t have to worry about,” he said. “That gives them a tremendous amount of peace, and that’s what they need in these situations. They need that peace. At least that part’s going to be OK.”

Bissett said the reunion of an owner with a pet is part of the healing process after such a traumatic experience.

“I’ve had so many conversations as part of that reunion process where they end it and they go, ‘Doc, everything’s going to be OK,’” he said. “That’s the business we’re in, the ‘Doc, everything’s going to be OK’ business, the hope business. It is exceedingly satisfying work that is, in my opinion, very consistent with the history of Texas A&M and how Aggies are committed to that type of service.”

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Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said that under Provost Carol Fierke’s leadership, A&M’s four-year graduation rate has risen by 5.6% to 60.6%. “I thank Provost Fierke for her continual display of the Aggie core values of respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service,” Young said. 

A new partnership between A&M department of animal science’s Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center, Amarillo-based nonprofit Cactus Cares, and The 12th Can Food Pantry made it all possible. Cactus Cares aims to provide meat protein to people who are food insecure. 

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