On May 20th, a devastating EF-5 tornado with catastrophic winds in excess of 210 mph cut a deadly swath 17 miles long through the heart of Oklahoma, leaving hundreds of people and animals homeless, injured and in desperate need of help.
Within hours, thanks to the efforts of county singer and longtime supporter Miranda Lambert and her MuttNation Foundation, American Humane Association’s legendary Red Star™ Rescue Emergency Services received an invitation from the State of Oklahoma to deploy as an approved emergency responder to assist the animal victims of the disaster. Two teams driving our 82-foot Rescue Rig, sponsored by Mars Petcare US, and our 50-foot Lois Pope LIFE Rescue Vehicle left their bases in Denver, Colorado and Palm Beach, Florida and raced a combined 2,000 miles in just over a day to help the stricken city of Moore. We soon had boots on the ground and went to work providing emergency assistance, preparing a temporary shelter at a fairgrounds on the outskirts of town, and helping find and shelter lost, injured and frightened animals.
“Our team has been working feverishly with local, state and national organizations to restore hope through an outpouring of compassion,” says Justin Scally, the new national director of the Red Star Rescue program, who had just been recruited during a national search and started his work several weeks early in order to lead the Oklahoma relief efforts. “From walking dogs and cleaning kennels to helping rescue animals from unbelievable scenes of despair, our teams are witnessing first-hand the devastation and recovery of an amazing city.”
Voices from the Disaster Zone
For American Humane Association staff member turned Red Star volunteer Henry Kurusz, his first day in the field was an experience he will never forget: “It was complete destruction. As far you could see there were just piles of lumber, overturned cars and trees littered with debris. Entire blocks and communities were destroyed with nothing but twisted metal and splinters remaining.”
What was most amazing to Henry and his fellow volunteers however was the unwavering spirit and determination of the people of Moore and the bonds he formed with the animals in his care. First there was the “gang of five” – a family of five dachshunds that somehow managed to stay safe and together when the room their family put them in remained standing while the rest of the house was destroyed. And then there were the kittens: “An older couple came in to the shelter and had a little kitten wrapped in a blanket,” said Henry. “I was most certain the little thing had passed away. She wasn’t moving at all, and was limp and unresponsive, but I rushed her over to our vet for him to check her out. A couple or hours later I saw the vet tech carrying this little baby on a full size IV bag. Amazingly, after some fruit juice, a few more IV’s and other medicine, she looked to be just fine."
Ken Mountcastle, another Red Star volunteer found a special bond with “Baxter,” a terrier mix who at first “was a terror, trying to shake loose his leash, mixing it up with other dogs, just a nightmare.” But after a few days, when Ken took Baxter back to his kennel after a walk, the little fellow would lay down, roll over and wait patiently for his treat. “Of course, I scratched his furry little tummy every time. We met many wonderful people, but I will always remember Baxter.”
Support Pours In From Across America
Red Star’s deployment and work in Oklahoma was made possible by an outpouring of support from good-hearted people and companies across the nation. Mars Petcare US, makers of PEDIGREE® Food for Dogs and WHISKAS® Food for Cats, is sponsoring the deployment of the giant Rescue Rig and donating emergency food supplies. Their senior executives Melissa Martellotti, Angel May, and three other volunteers joined our Red Star team on the ground in Oklahoma. Banfield Animal Hospital offered veterinary care and Zoetis donated critically needed medicines. Philanthropist Lois Pope donated the newest member of our fleet, the 50-foot Lois Pope LIFE Rescue Vehicle, which made its inaugural voyage to Moore. Rescue Bank provided logistics, PetSmart Charities and Code 3 Associates delivered much-needed crates. American Humane Association supporters across the country sent in donations to help Red Star deploy. Also, thanks to the other responders we worked with including IFAW, NACA and Red Rover.
Miranda Lambert and Victoria Principal Lend Their Star Power to Red Star
After helping secure the invitation for Red Star to help Oklahoma’s animals, renowned country singer and longtime supporter Miranda Lambert invited the rescue workers to attend the “Healing in the Heartland” concert, which was broadcast nationally on NBC to benefit the victims of the tornado. Miranda gave an emotionally wrenching performance during which giant photos of Red Star in action were projected on screens behind her. Dr. Lorna Lanman, a veterinarian and Red Star volunteer said, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.” Showing their support for the animals of Oklahoma, Miranda’s parents Bev and Rick Lambert toured the shelter and secured the use of a specially equipped Backstage Coaches tour bus to provide more living space and comfort for the Red Star team. “The passion that the Lambert family has for what we do gives us the emotional fuel to continue our mission,” said Red Star volunteer Anita Patterson. All of us at American Humane Association are extremely appreciative of their passion for the animals and unwavering support of all we do.”
Last week, actress, writer and entrepreneur Victoria Principal reached out to American Humane Association to lend her star power to Red Star. In addition to her generous private support, she lent her name to our efforts and made a national appeal that brought in donations from citizens across America.
This support has translated to helping animals in Oklahoma. To date, more than 200 pets have passed through the shelter and we’ve helped reunite some 90 animals with their families so far. The animals that remain in the shelter are safe, sound and receiving plenty of TLC, but they miss their homes. To help, American Humane Association and our Red Star team are working closely with local officials to help families find and recover their lost pets. For those that remain after the mandatory 30 day period to recover lost pets ends at the end of the month, Red Star and the City of Moore are holding an Adopt-a-Thon to give these animals a second chance with a new family.
“As the community continues to heal from the tragedy of May 20, it’s important that we bring closure for the animals, as well,” said Scally. “The animals affected by this tornado and the animals in shelters across the country every day only need someone to give them a chance at a new beginning.”