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Pet Stories: In Your Own Words

Following the Oklahoma Tornado...with a Whirlwind of Hope

By: Ken Mountcastle

After more than a month helping the animals and people of the Moore, Oklahoma area recover from a deadly tornado, American Humane Association’s legendary Red Star™ rescue team is finally ending its deployment and I am glad to report that the mission has been a great success.

We couldn’t have received a warmer welcome from the city officials, county officials, people and press. Following the stunning destruction caused by the EF5 tornado on May 20, Red Star™ quickly mobilized a team of staff and volunteers, our 82-foot Rescue Rig and our 50-foot Lois Pope LIFE Rescue Vehicle. Responding to an invitation from Oklahoma that was secured with the help of Miranda Lambert and her MuttNation Foundation, we raced to the recovery zone, covering 2,000 combined miles in just over a day. After assessing the situation and needs for the animals, we assisted with a temporary animal shelter at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds.

It was a tremendous, emotional experience. I found an amazing crew of staff and volunteers ready to save animals, and as we worked through 18-hour, sometimes 100-degree days together, we soon established the kind of rapport that usually takes years to build. Each and every one of the Red Star workers who helped on this deployment brought a unique skill set to animal emergency situations, and all did a wonderful job of continuing the legacy of this nearly century-old program, which was started by American Humane Association during World War I when the United States War Department asked us to save wounded horses on the battlefields of Europe. Since then, Red Star has been involved with virtually every major disaster response, including Pearl Harbor, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado, the deadly earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the terror attacks on 9/11, and Superstorm Sandy.

There are so many stories to tell about the Oklahoma deployment, but I want to share two with you. On the last day of my first deployment, I said goodbye to my AHA colleagues and other locals who had volunteered throughout the week. Then, I entered the shelter before anyone else to say goodbye to my new four-legged friends. I had been assigned to a specific section of the shelter, and I worked with roughly thirty dogs on a daily basis. I had grown quite fond of some and had not been able to spend as much time with others. My goal was to walk by all of the cages and simply wave and say something. As I stood before the gate guarding the section, all the dogs in the section had risen up on all fours, turned their heads toward me and began wagging their tails and serenading me with joyous howls and friendly barks. Now how cool was that? Just five days before, I was a stranger to these dogs and they let me know it with raised hair and clenched teeth. Now, we had formed a bond, and the farewell that I received was better than any produced by a group of humans.

Then there was Connie. A local volunteer, she worked tirelessly throughout each and every day. We passed each other now and then and I would say hello or acknowledge her with a smile. My guess is that Connie stood about 5’4” and was in her early 60s. One day, an eighteen wheeler arrived at the shelter, and it was loaded with donated items for the relief effort. I jumped into the trailer, and I started carrying items to the door to be carried into the shelter.  On one such trip, I was carrying a 50-pound bag and a 20-pound bag. As I approached the drop zone, I saw Connie standing there awaiting her turn to carry a bag. Naturally, I reached out to give her the smaller bag. “Not that one, the other one,” she said. I informed her that the weight was 50 pounds, and she looked me straight in the eye and said

We were able to rescue and/or shelter more than 200 animals, reunite nearly 100 with their families, place some with rescues and get many into good, loving homes during an Adopt-a-Thon we held with the city of Moore on June 23.“ I can take 50!!” She wrapped both arms around the bag and away it went to be placed in the shelter. Later in the day, I saw Connie working in the shelter, and I walked up to her and told her how much I admired her work ethic, her spirit and her help with the bags. She wasn’t looking for recognition or accolades; she simply looked at me and said thank you for being here -- you are helping to rebuild our community. I was speechless. This is the kind of impact American Humane Association's Red Star program has been making in communities for nearly 100 years.  Thank you to all of those who make this work possible and who bring awareness to our mission of hope, including our wonderful supporter Shirley MacLaine.  We are grateful. 


Ken Mountcastle Philanthropic Services Officer American Humane Association, 1400 16th Street NW, Suite 360, Washington, DC 20036




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