Free pet clinic amazes Texas A&M vets

Huge response to a free summer veterinary program brought to Willacy County under Operation Border Health Preparedness.

RAYMONDVILLE, Texas – A pet clinic the Texas A&M University Veterinary Emergency Team had in sparsely populated Willacy County wasn’t what the Aggies were expecting.

The five-day operation had to be cut short by 10:30 a.m. on its last day because of an unforeseen development: the men’s and women’s best friends outnumbered the vaccines available for the free-to-the-public event.

A total of 1,022 house pets, mostly dogs, were treated by a staff of about 80, some of whom were third- and fourth-year students from one of the nation’s top universities.

This School of Veterinary Science ranks sixth in the United States and 11th in the world, according to the 2022 Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings by Subject.

Dr. Wesley Bissett, the VET program’s director, said he thought they came prepared for the clinic but the response they got from the Rio Grande Valley was overwhelming.

“It was an amazing. We practically doubled the numbers,” he said. “The only negative aspect of the operation was we ran out of vaccines and had to shut it down a little too soon.”

Bissett said they more than doubled last year’s figure of 502 pets and had 292 more than the 730 they treated in 2021.

Some of the wellness preventive healthcare services available for pets included rabies vaccines, distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus, Type 2/parainfluenza and leptospirosis vaccines, feline rhinotracheitis/calicivirus/panleukopenia and leukemia.

Also, physical exams and low-level diagnostic testing for conditions like heartworms and tick-borne diseases. Some pets were eligible to receive a dewormer and a single dose of heartworm and flea prevention based on their age, health status, and previous health history.

Bissett said they will be back next year and anticipate the same, if not higher numbers.

But to cope with an increased number of pets they will have to acquire more supplies.

The cost of the five-day operation is a $120,000 price tag, but the benefit the community receives is almost four times as much.

Some of the funding the A&M team has for its clinics comes from donations such as from the Banfield Foundation – a Washington State-based non-profit organization that provides disaster relief for pets, among other things.

Bissett said he wishes the Texas Legislation would introduce a bill to allocate funding for such operations, adding nothing has yet happened.

The free pet clinic was part of the annual Operation Border Health Preparedness – a full-scale emergency response in case a health emergency situation hits the region.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is the lead agency in charge of the 20-plus years program.

It was formerly known as Operation Lone Star but it changed name two years ago to avoid confusion with Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott’s border security initiative.

The week-long event is a full-scale operation set up to respond to natural or man-made disasters and it provides dozens of health care services to people and animals living in the Valley and Webb County.

Willacy County is the only place where the pet clinic has been held for the last three years.

OBHP has been taking place in one of the most economically-distressed regions plagued with high unemployment rates and low per capita income.

According figures issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the RGV has one of Texas’ highest unemployment rates, ranging from 5.7 percent in Cameron County to 9.3 percent in Starr County, compared to Texas’ rate of 4.1 percent.

The figures are as of May is this year.

For hundreds of RGV residents OPBH is a yearlong wait worth every penny.

Raymondville resident Corina Cantu said she could not be happier to find out the operation was coming back to town this past July.

“I wait for this to happen all year long,” she said. “This is the only place I can really afford to take my little dog.”

A Weslaco resident, who moved from the Mid West several years ago and who has no health insurance, said she gets health services for herself and her dog, which she rescued from a local animal shelter.

Countless people from all over the RGV showed up for the free pet clinic, including Robert Salinas, the county’s building inspector.

“Very beneficial,” he said, referring to the four dogs he took to the clinic.

Estella McKee, chief of staff for the state Rep. Janie Lopez, toured the portable vet hospital.

“I was really impressed with all the information they had available, she McKee said, “whether inside or outside (the buildings).”

All the OPHP services are free and open to anyone from the RGV – whether ricos o pobres, gatos o perros.

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