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.”