CART members utilizing their Becker Sling and gantry system used for horse rescue at a training demonstration earlier last month. Photos provided by Carbon CART.
When Hurricane Floyd hit coastal North Carolina in 1999, it claimed the lives of 35 humans ... but it also had a catastrophic effect on the state’s animals. Millions of farm animals drowned, thousands of pets were separated from their families, and the aftereffects of that tragedy sent ripples across the country.
It triggered the third largest evacuation in U.S. history—2.6 million residents in five coastal states were ordered to leave their homes. Many refused upon the realization that they would not be able to take their animals with them and thus died right along with their animals. The exorbitant loss of life could have been avoided with some form of organized response plan. This is what Diane Sharpless, Coordinator of the Carbon County Animal Response Team (CART), says prompted the launch of emergency animal services.
Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team (PASART) began in 2004 as a preventative measure against what happened in the south. Eventually, each county developed its own 100% volunteer-driven chapter. While not an obvious target for natural disasters, the state has its fair share of misfortunes: fire, snow, and flooding are the most common.
“If you get heavy snowfall in an area and the roof of a housing complex caves in, if those people have pets, that’s a disaster,” explained Frank Beckett, Carbon CART Co-Coordinator.
“So is an overturned tractor-trailer,” added Michele Beckett, who acts as Fundraising Co-Chair for Carbon CART. In such a heavy farming area, they said it can be heart-breaking to witness cows and pigs suffer through a large-scale traffic accident.
So what is an animal response team and how does it differ from animal rescue? Turns out the two work quite closely, but their capabilities vary widely.
“People don’t know what a response team is, that’s part of our problem as far as getting the word out,” said Sharpless.
How can you use CART?
Example scenario: You’re driving down a highway and you witness a car accident. You see that there were dogs riding in the backseat of one of the cars. When you call 911 for the police and an ambulance, you should also mention that you need the local CART. Someone will arrive on the scene to specifically care for those dogs.
“All first responders’ first responsibility is human life and it’s not until after the fact that animals receive the attention they might need. We can assist, and we can do it faster,” said Sharpless.
The only thing that stands in their way of helping animals in need is people’s unawareness of what they can do. “We’re not allowed to activate ourselves; we have to be requested. If we witness something ourselves, we can’t just go in and get to work.”
Luckily they’ve never found themselves in that type of situation, but Sharpless explained that the way they would handle it would be to approach the authorities on the scene and explain who they were and that a call would need to be put in for them. They would wait until it was no longer a safety hazard for them to be on the scene, meaning they often find themselves waiting until ambulances have left.
“You have to wait for the chain of command so you don’t get in the way. Patience—it’s a virtue,” said Frank. Michele added, “We can’t be everywhere, that’s the hard part, but we certainly do try. We help do what we know we can do immediately.”
Through their demonstrations and fundraisers, Michele said they’ve started to be recognized more and more. “It used to be that no one really knew who we were; that’s starting to change now. We project that in the next five years, we’ll be known in every township in the county—for all good reasons.”
Their most memorable rescue was that of a horse named Avalon who fell into a four-foot-deep ditch, pictured below. Over the past five years, there have been three scenarios of horses in need in Carbon County. Three too many, according to Sharpless. “If we weren’t there and trained, those animals would have died,” she said. CART members go through a series of training courses depending on how deep they’d like to go. On the most basic level, it takes at least four classes.
“But there’s nobody that isn’t qualified to be a CART member, said Michele. “We always need help with something.”
Unfortunately, even in the midst of doing so much good, they have their share of heartache on the job.
Some past incidents have included a house fire in which five young kittens died and a kennel fire that cost the lives of 17 dogs. “That’s some of the toughest stuff we deal with, when the animals don’t survive,” said Sharpless. “Those are the most horrific.”
“Not all successes are a happy ending,” added Michele.
Together with local animal shelters and rescues, they’ve also teamed up with national organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to help in situations where it’s more than either one can handle independently, such as hoarding or puppy mills. Working together with the common goal of helping animals has brought a sense of purpose and camaraderie to the job.
“You have to be confident in your group. We’re getting to see our goals of working with different organizations in the county come true, with our fire and police and rescues. It’s just starting to happen for all of us,” said Michele. “Part of helping people and their animals is having the confidence of knowing what we’re doing, otherwise it’s just chaos. We work to serve. You have to work with people if you work with animals.”
The biggest part of working with people is working with new ones. Like any nonprofit trying to serve the community, Carbon CART needs more volunteers and more equipment, which they hope to purchase with their fundraising.
“We have a wish list,” laughed Michele. They’re saving up for a bipod system to help with large animals, which runs around $5,000.
No matter how much the equipment costs or the toll the job can sometimes take emotionally, all three say they’re in it for all the right reasons.
Sharpless joined in 2007. “I saw the need and I want to do whatever I can to help,” she said. “Originally, my husband and I just wanted to be boots-on-the-ground helpers ... that didn’t work out.”
Frank entered in late 2010. “It’s like any game; you’re not going to win every one of them, but you still have to play,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a grunt and now I find myself the co-coordinator. I really do love it.”
Michele, who also joined in late 2010, said, “I found a lot to it that I like. I did not believe I could still study and take classes. The last four years have given me such a boost. It keeps me moving and thinking. It’s very easy to stop and sit, but I like being involved. And it gives back.”
And of course, as Frank noted, “I think it’s safe to say for all of us that it’s all about the animals.”