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In August 2012, Ellis and the TAHC, the State's lead agency for animal issues in disasters, announced its new Horseback Emergency Response Team.
"You rescued me when I thought nobody would...you gave me everything and asked for nothing." ― Charles Martin, Thunder and Rain
The winds were fierce and the rain torrential as Hurricane Ike reached the coast of Texas Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008. Nearly 3,000 people needed to be rescued from flood waters, 37 lost their lives and some are still missing. Thousands of homes were destroyed, many more damaged, and as many as 10,000 animals, from pets to livestock, were scattered across the roadways and byways from Galveston to the Louisiana border.
"Everything we owned was gone ― the house, the barn and all the animals. We can rebuild the house; the cows and the goats we could replace, but the horses, they all had a name, they were special, and we were very lucky to get most of them back."
Those were the words of an unidentified rural Texas resident whose property was devastated by Ike, telling his survivor tale to a Houston television station news crew just days after the disaster. It was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of similar stories.
Disaster stories like this inspired Dr. Dee Ellis to consider the very real challenges of Texans who face life-changing events and caused him to wonder what could be done to bring relief to many who suffer so much.
Ellis, Texas State Veterinarian and Executive Director of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), worked with local officials and Ike survivors on animal issues following that storm.
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"There were so many displaced animals on the highway between Houston and Beaumont, as many as ten thousand. And then it happened again in 2011 with so many Texas wildfires around Bastrop and in West Texas and around Fort Worth when animals were turned lose to roam. When fires are coming, ranchers have no choice but to cut their fences, and suddenly you have animals loose on roads and in the back country," he explained.