In April 2011, a tornado ripped through the small Atoka County community of Tushka. The path of destruction caused by the tornado left not only many residents displaced but also many pets and livestock.
Every year, Oklahoma is plagued by a number of natural disasters and caring for animals affected can be a struggle for emergency responders, due to limited resources and experienced volunteers.
The newly developed County Animal Response Team (CART) program is meant to provide some infrastructure and allow for more organized animal care during times of emergency.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF), and the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps (OKMRC) initiated the program with the purpose of caring, rescuing, sheltering and reunifying animals.
The CART program is designed to also respond to foreign animal disease outbreaks when and if such events occur.
The creation of the CART program is credited to Dr. Debbie Cunningham, ODAFF staff veterinarian. Cunningham was on the scene in Tushka after the tornado realized there was a need for responders specifically for animals.
It was her experience in Tushka that set CARTS into motion and helped to develop one of the program’s primary goal of developing at least one response team in each county.
“In Tushka, I had to call six veterinarians before I found one who hadn’t been affected themselves,” Cunningham said. “We’d like to have two to three CART teams in every one of the 77 counties.”
Currently, there are CART teams in four Oklahoma counties and 84 CART team members. Cunningham has been educating groups across the state about the program and seeking volunteers.
A CART team is a small group of volunteers comprised of a veterinarian, a veterinary technician and other members.
Team members can include emergency management, first responders, animal control organizations, police, fire, animal sheltering groups, specialty groups, and other interested individuals.
Volunteers typically assist with basic animal needs like feeding and watering and also helping to register animals that arrive as to assist in reuniting pets with owners.
All CART members must also be OKMRC volunteers. Volunteers must be 18 years or older will receive free training.
Those interested in becoming CART members are encouraged to visit www.okmrc.org and sign up. To indicate your interest in the program, select the CART box when registering with OKMRC.
For more information about the CART program or to schedule a presentation for your group to learn more about the program, contact Cunningham at 522-6136, or firstname.lastname@example.org.