An out-of-control wildfire storms across a Central Texas countryside scattering livestock and burning ranch homes, barns, stables and out buildings, leaving rural families in a state of confusion and emergency, concerned about their stock and worried about their future.

Similarly, a raging tropical storm or hurricane pounds the South Texas coast causing similar results; livestock herds are scattered or destroyed, homes are lost and lives have changed.

No one likes to think about a disaster, but we all know they can and do happen. Last year’s serious wildfires across Texas, for example, cost rural families millions of dollars in damages, and it wasn’t but a few years back when Hurricane Rita stormed ashore near Galveston leaving behind a trail of disaster and broken dreams for thousands of Texans.

While local, state and federal agencies are often quick to respond when disaster strikes, rural families, especially agricultural producers, find themselves in need of the types of help that are often slow in coming. For example, when raging wildfires require evacuation from a rural area, ranchers are often prohibited from re-entering an evacuated area to check on, gather or feed livestock that have strayed. Horse owners, livestock producers, even rural pet owners are “locked out” of their property until emergency fire crews can control the blaze and re-open the fire battleground to property owners.

The problem hasn’t escaped the attention and concern of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC). Over the last several months, TAHC’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Amanda Bernhard, has been scheduling training, organizing a group of some 20 volunteers, and putting the final touches on what has become the Texas Animal Health Commission’s Mounted Disaster Response Team.

“Our new response team consists of TAHC inspectors who are trained to deal with animal health issues. Disasters in the past have revealed the need for responders on horseback to help with livestock handling issues. Public safety, as well as animal safety, can be compromised when displaced animals are found on public roadways,” Bernhard told Southwest Farm Press.

The TAHC staff will work to reunite stray livestock with their owners, assist local jurisdictions with shelter activities, support any unmet needs of affected livestock and poultry producers, as well as assist the local veterinary community that may be affected by a catastrophic event.