When Barbara and Russell Behrndt named their Shih Tzu Maltese “Bevo” after The University of Texas longhorn mascot, they never planned for him to live at Texas A&M University. Yet, as they began to wonder what would happen to their beloved canine if they could no longer care for him, their Aggie veterinarian, Lisa Willis ’96, told them about the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center.
Located at Texas A&M as a component of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), the Stevenson Center provides a loving home for pets whose owners can no longer care for them and who have no family members who could assume the responsibility. Whether owners want to plan for their pet’s future prior to entering a retirement home, being hospitalized for an extended period or predeceasing a pet, they can enroll their animals in the Stevenson Center to ensure they will receive the best physical, medical and emotional care when the time comes.
Founded in 1993, the center is designed to feel like a real home for the animals that live there, including cats, dogs and rabbits. They can play in the spacious backyard, roam the facility and spend quality time with the center’s full-time staff and student workers, including the four CVMBS student residents who live at the center to help provide 24-hour care for their furry housemates.
Impressed by the Stevenson Center and the college, the Behrndts not only enrolled Bevo and their cat, Benny, at the center but also created current and planned gifts to support the facility and its student residents, such as Sierra Key ’18 ’23.
The Behrndts adopted their first four-legged child 47 years ago on the day they returned from their honeymoon, and they have been animal owners ever since. Through the years, they have owned dogs, cats, fish, a cockatoo and a guinea pig.
“We never looked back with having animals,” Barbara said. “We are animal people.”
Originally from Ohio, the Behrndts have no family in Texas, so the Stevenson Center provides peace of mind that their pets will be well cared for if the couple can no longer do so.
“We fell in love with the Stevenson Center and its students,” Barbara explained. “You can tell the students are not just there for a career. They are there because taking care of animals is a lifestyle for them. That’s when we knew there would always be a forever home for any animal we have.”
Because the Behrndts have no children of their own, they decided to create a scholarship to support the center’s student residents. They have since expanded the scholarship through a planned gift in their wills and have committed an additional gift to support the center.
“We’ve given to several charities throughout the years, but you don’t always know where the money is going or how it will be used,” Russell explained. “Through the Texas A&M Foundation, we know the money is going to a good place. The students can carry on our wishes throughout the years as they graduate and become veterinarians.”
“Plus, our gift won’t just help students,” Barbara added. “We don’t know how many thousands of animals we’re helping in the future by supporting the education of dedicated veterinarians. That was something we were passionate about.”
Life at Stevenson
The first recipient of the Behrndts’ scholarship is Sierra Key, a second-year veterinary student who has been part of the Stevenson Center family since 2015. She began working at the center helping with housekeeping and grooming chores before moving in as a student resident in 2017.
In her role at the center, Key has a close bond with the furry residents. She feeds them, administers their medications and takes them to Texas A&M’s Small Animal Hospital if needed. They keep her company as she studies and provide a unique opportunity for hands-on caregiving experience.
“I’m learning so much from them,” Key said. “I’ve worked in a few practices before, but you only see the patients for 30 minutes in the clinic. At the Stevenson Center, I’m around the patients all the time and can observe their progression in certain diseases. I’m gaining experience that a lot of students don’t have, which will help me better advise owners on their pets’ care when I become a veterinarian.”
Key plans to practice small or mixed animal medicine after earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, a path aided by the Behrndts’ generosity.
“Their scholarship helps alleviate the financial burden of veterinary school,” she said. “I met the Behrndts in the spring and have kept in contact, and they are always supporting me and asking about my classes. It means so much to know that they care about my education and my journey.”
Through her experiences at the Stevenson Center, Key knows that the Behrndts and all pet owners can feel confident that when their pets come to the center, it will be like coming home.
“The amount that everybody at the center cares for these pets must be very close to how their owners feel about them,” she said. “I consider all these pets my pets. I come home to them, I love on them and we spoil them to no end. I’m grateful for this opportunity and for the people who trust us enough to leave their furry family members with us. We truly love these animals.”
Want to learn more about the Stevenson Center? Contact Monika Blackwell using the form below. For more information on supporting the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences with a planned gift, contact Angela Throne ’03 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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