Supporting the Veterinary Community in a Time of Need

As Texas prepared for Hurricane Harvey to make landfall last August, volunteers from the Texas Sealife Center (TSC), a volunteer-run wildlife rehabilitation hospital in Corpus Christi, evacuated the birds and sea turtles in their care to an animal hospital in South Texas and prepared to weather the storm. Specializing in rehabilitating and releasing sea turtles and other coastal and aquatic wildlife, the Texas Sealife Center serves as a haven for injured wildlife, and Dr. Tim Tristan, a veterinarian at the Texas Sealife Center, said he knew that if their facility survived the storm, they would have a lot of work to do.

Dr. Tristan, along with many other veterinarians around Texas, received grants from the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) to help cover the cost of the food, housing and medical care they were providing to displaced and hurricane-affected animals. At the Texas Sealife Center, the grant from TVMF went directly toward the treatment of affected wildlife, which included animals that had been hit by boats, caught in fishing line or otherwise injured by Hurricane Harvey. These grants were made possible through the generosity of veterinarians and members of the pet-owning public from across the country.

The same night that Dr. Tristan was evacuating TSC, Dr. Jennifer Hennessey-Bremseth of Animal ER of Northwest Houston sent most of her staff home so they could take care of their pets and families. She watched the news with her practice manager, Roger Zinn, as floodwaters kept rising and the storm impacted more and more of the surrounding area. In the middle of the night, the phone rang. A woman was having to evacuate her home due to flooding, and she didn’t know what to do with her animals. Could they help?

That call was only the first of many that Dr. Hennessey-Bremseth and Zinn would receive. By morning, they had started housing animals in an adjacent space next door to the ER (which was destined to be the future site of an animal rehabilitation clinic) and put out a call on social media requesting donations of crates and bedding. Over the next four hours, people started driving through the storm to drop off donations. Within 12 hours, more than 200 crates had been donated, and more and more animals were arriving at the clinic.

Practice Manger, Roger Zinn of Animal ER of Northwest Houston

Back in Corpus Christi, Dr. Tristan had returned to the Texas Sealife Center after sheltering for two days in South Texas. While the TSC had fared well during the storm, suffering only a little roof damage, a sister facility—the Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas—was severely damaged. TSC was asked to take on 30 turtles and 30 birds from ARK. At the same time, they were receiving a continuous stream of birds and turtles that needed rescuing. In total, TSC took in more than 200 additional animals in the days following Hurricane Harvey, including 80 exotic ducks from a private individual in Rockport whose aviary had been completely destroyed during Harvey and who was unable to access fresh water from his well. Though the Texas Sealife Center had already seen an increase in birds and wildlife needing care, they opened their doors to these additional animals without hesitation. Dr. Tristan recalled how one team of volunteers drove to Rockport to get the ducks while another team stayed behind to construct an aviary to house them. By the time the ducks arrived at TSC, their new home was ready and waiting for them.

Over the next several days, scenarios like these played out up and down the Texas coast. In a video that went viral on the TVMF Facebook page, Dr. Kerry Cline of Dr. Kerry’s PETVET in Conroe was captured kayaking through a flooded Houston-area neighborhood and rescuing a cat from the window of a flooded home. In Santa Fe, Texas, Dr. Dennis W. Jenkins of Santa Fe Equine Associates rescued and treated horses and ponies that were stranded or injured by the storm. In Houston, Dr. Tina Han of My Doorstep Vet traveled with her mobile clinic to treat pets that had evacuated to church shelters with their owners. These veterinarians, and many others, received grant funding from TVMF to assist them as they provided medical care to animals affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Dr. Tina Han of My Doorstep Vet

At the Animal ER of Northwest Houston, Roger Zinn was witnessing the generosity of TVMF and the community firsthand. In the 11 days following Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, Animal ER stayed open 24/7 and became a focal point for community donations.

“We always try to serve as an extension of the local hospitals, so we saw it as our mission to be available to public and veterinary community,” Zinn said.

More than $60,000 of medical supplies and many tons of pet food were donated by members of the public, corporate partners and other veterinarians, including a veterinarian from Hawaii who flew into Houston with supplies and spent several days delivering to local veterinarians in need. Most of the donated supplies came from veterinary practices throughout the community. In addition to the donated supplies that Animal ER was dispersing to other veterinarians and animals in need, Dr. Hennessey-Bremseth also was awarded a grant from TVMF to aid in the treatment of the displaced animals being housed at the clinic.

“The outpouring of support from the public and the veterinary community as well as the assistance from TVMF was incredible,” Zinn said.

Dr. Tristan of Texas Sealife Center agreed. He described the days following Hurricane Harvey’s landfall as controlled chaos.

“We had things under control, but it was chaotic,” he said. “This disaster really showed the good side of people. That certainly came out in this situation. Our volunteers are our lifeblood. Without them, we wouldn’t exist, and we couldn’t have done what we did. Without the funding and support from TVMF, we couldn’t have made it happen. No question.”

To date, the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation has disbursed 52 grants to veterinarians for animal medical expenses. If you are still in need of assistance, please contact TVMF Director Leah Ann Tibbitts at