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A Veterinary Response to Natural Disasters

This piece was shared with us by Chris Dolan from Texas A&M University. As we learn more everyday about the destruction caused by Hurrican Harvey we hope this experience will help us all gain a better understanding of just one way we as members of the veterinary community can help those in need. Thank you for sharing Chris and for donating your time to your community.  

4:30am - my phone rings. I was being called because the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) was being deployed. Canton, Texas had been hit by F3 and F4 tornadoes and needed our help to cover the urgent animal needs in their devastated community. I was called because I was on the Community Connections rotation at Texas A&M University, which is taught by members of the VET and shows students how veterinarians can be an asset during an emergency response. The rotation also allows for students to deploy with the VET if they are sent to help with a disaster during the rotation.
My bag was packed and I was ready at the school by 5:30am. The regular members of the team were gathering supplies and packing the trailers. The resources held by the VET are truly amazing. We traveled to Canton with two field service trucks, a large trailer converted to a mobile examination room, a second large trailer converted into a mobile surgical suite, and two box trucks full of medical supplies and other needed equipment.
We were in Canton by 11:00am and we were ready to assist the emergency response by early afternoon. Our job was to help support the search and rescue dogs of Texas Task Force 1 and 2 (urban search and rescue teams) and to also triage both small and large resident animals that were hurt in the storm. Many of the animals we saw in the first few hours were strays that had been able to get away before the storm hit and only had a few minor injuries. Small lacerations and some blunt trauma were the most common problems we saw and were not too serious in the early patients.
We had a farm call late in our first day for some cattle that were found under down trees. Heading out to this call was the first time we had really seen any of the devastation from the storm. The area we had set up our trailers had not been touched by the tornado and it was eerie being in a pristine part of town knowing that everything had been destroyed just a few miles over. Driving to the cattle we saw steel beams wrapped around trees, cars on their backs, huge piles of rubble where houses once stood, and so much more. The cattle were in rough shape when we arrived. The bull had already died because the tree had slammed into him so hard it left a permanent impression in his body. The remaining cow and heifer were alive, but just barely so. It was obvious after a quick examination that the trees falling had broken both of their backs and they were euthanized.
As the deployment progressed we continued to see more significant injuries. We saw dogs with bilateral jaw fractures and broken ribs, chickens that had been covered in rubble, and cats that had been trapped and covered in propane. We worked through each of these cases as quickly as possible and did our best to reunite these animals with their owners. In cases where the owner was not present, the animals were sent to the local shelter where the media was directing people to look for lost pets. If the animals were more critical we were able to transfer them to the local veterinary hospitals if the patient needed more intensive care or hospitalization than we could provide. We could not have done as much as we did without the support of the
veterinarians in Canton.
The people in this community had lost everything and it was amazing to see the joy when we told them their animals would survive. For many, these pets were the only part left of their life they had before the tornado hit and it was clear that these animals were already helping them heal. I was amazed at the generosity poured out
to the VET team by this community that had recently suffered such a serious tragedy. The people of Canton were extremely grateful for all of the emergency responders and made sure we were never without a hot meal. Driving to different farm calls we were constantly asked if we had already eaten breakfast or wanted to take some warm food back with us. People were stopping by just to say thank you for us being there and how much
it meant to the community.
On our third day the VET was demobilized and we headed home. Throughout this deployment I learned a lot about what it means to be a veterinarian. We were there to help save the animals that were affected by the storm but in many ways we were also helping the people. Their animals gave them hope and support for moving forward and rebuilding their lives. As veterinarians we are the healthcare professionals for animals in
our communities but we can also be so much more. We can help our communities prepare for disasters and think of the animal needs in the rebuilding of the community. It can be hard to see the impact we have while in veterinary school and I encourage everyone to get involved in their community while in vet school and after you graduate. You can have a profound impact on the people around you and be a
leader in your community. 


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