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Beloved pets lost in Oklahoma tornadoes honored at memorial service

Animals lost in the May tornadoes in Oklahoma were remembered Saturday during a service at Orr Family Farm, 14400 S Western.
by Carla Hinton Published: June 16, 2013

Duke, Molly and Annabelle.

Billy, Pete, Marty and Essie.

Dakota, Foxy and Meagan.

Many pets were lovingly honored Saturday during a memorial service at Orr Family Farm, 14400 S Western, for animals who died in the May tornadoes.

About 80 people gathered for the service held near a small memorial garden created in a corner of the farm's parking lot. Several guests cried softly as metro-area musician Mary Reynolds strummed on a guitar and the crowd joined her in singing “You've Got a Friend.”

“Today is a way of commemorating the love and joy and comfort they provide and we remember each by name,” the service's officiant, Canon Susan Joplin, of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, told those gathered.

Joplin encouraged attendees to place a trowel-full of soil into the memorial garden while sharing their pet's name. She said canna flowers had been planted in the garden and each attendee was given canna bulbs to take home and plant in memory of their much-loved animal.

Scattering dirt

Viviana Alexander, 7, scattered dirt into the garden as she spoke the name of her deceased dog, Bobo. Her parents, Anthony and Toshya Alexander, said the Yorkshire terrier died when a tornado hit the family's home May 20 in the Westmoor housing addition. Anthony Alexander said Bobo was the only one out of the family's three pets to die in the storm.

“We came for Viviana. She wanted to do something, to dedicate something for her dog,” he said.

Then there was Michelle Ratliff, whose voice trembled with emotion as she told the crowd she came to pay tribute to her horse, Sawyer, who died in November 2012 as well as her horse, Biscuit, who had to be put down after the Celestial Acres Training Center where he was being boarded was hit by the May 20 tornado. Numerous horses housed at the training center, adjacent to the Orr Family Farm, were killed in the storm.

“This was sort of a funeral in a sense,” Ratliff said. “I thought this was just such a wonderful thing to do.”

Ratliff said she survived the May 20 tornado by taking shelter in a friend's cellar. She said her home in the Plaza Towers housing addition was destroyed in the storm but her first thought was of 1-year-old Biscuit and the other horses at Celestial Acres.

“Houses can be replaced, horses can't,” Ratliff said.

She said she ran about a mile and a half to the center and searched for Biscuit in the debris for about 45 minutes. She said Biscuit was an Appaloosa who should have been easily identifiable because of his “white blanket” coat pattern. Ratliff said she found her horse alive but she had passed him twice because he was covered with mud. She said she knew when she found him that he would have to be put to sleep.

Survived for days

Dr. Rick Neal, a veterinarian with Ranchwood Veterinarian Hospital, told the crowd about Fred, a black Labrador who survived in debris and rubble that had been bulldozed twice over several days. Neal said he thought Fred would survive after he was found by police but the dog succumbed to his injuries five days later.

“It doesn't seem fair,” Neal said.

Dr. Glenn Orr, a retired veterinarian and co-owner of t Orr Family Farm, said he thought the memorial service would be helpful to grieving pet owners.

“Just as it's hard to get over the loss of a child or another loved one, it's also difficult to get over the loss of a pet,” he said.

Meanwhile, Joplin said St. Paul's has been conducting memorial services for pets for several years.

“When we lose a pet we don't have avenues of grieving that loss much in this culture,” she said. She said participating in a ceremony where individuals can do something tangible “helps open up the heart for healing.”

She said Saturday's memorial service came about through a partnership between St. Paul's, Orr Family Farm, TLC Nursery, Marcum's Nursery, Oklahoma Agriculture Department, Oklahoma Roundtable for Animal Welfare, Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, Horn Canna Farm, EMSA, Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office, Kirkpatrick Foundation and the Oklahoma City Police Department.

Horn Canna Farm donated canna bulbs for the event, Organizers of the service said plans are underway for upkeep and maintenance of the site.

Neal said the service was a way to help people in mourning for their pets realize that they are not alone.

“Socially, it's hard to lose an animal because you feel like no one understands but events like this help. They show that someone does understand.

Ratliff shared similar sentiments.

“A lot of people will say ‘It's just a horse. It's just a dog' but when you love someone it is more important than life itself,” she said.

by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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