Bob Ingersoll recounts the animal rescue efforts after the 2013 tornado, in Moore, OK:
In May, 2013, a powerful tornado struck Oklahoma, devastating the community and making a large scale animal rescue necessary. Thankfully, Animal Resource Center, and the generous volunteers, were up to the task.
On May 20, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, was hit by a very large and powerful tornado. The areas affected had only minutes to prepare for what would be called The Plaza Towers Elementary Tornado. Sadly, Plaza Towers Elementary School was leveled that day, along with most of the surrounding neighborhoods. More than 350 people were injured, and 24 were killed. 1150 homes were destroyed.
With that kind of devastation, it was obvious that there were going to be hundreds of displaced and injured pets and other animals. Staunch animal ally, Mary Katherine Long told me about Animal Resource Center in Oklahoma City. I moved up my departure date from San Francisco to our home in Norman, Oklahoma, ten miles south of Moore. I arrived in Norman a few days later to help. I knew the animal rescue efforts were going to need all hands on deck!
Animal Resource Center is a facility which normally provides information to the public. It also supplies meeting space for animal groups and clubs. Because of the immense need, ARC’s president, Barbara Lewis, opened their doors to the displaced pets of the tornado. As the animal rescue efforts unfolded, pets were brought in and ARC did what was needed: assessed the animals, cleaned them up, treated the injured, housed them all in a safe and clean environment. Donations came in from all over the country. Barbara put me to work in the warehouse unloading cars, trucks, vans, and semis. The facility was divided into sections, and volunteers as well as rescue pets were assigned to their particular area.
I showed up at 7:00 a.m., putting in 12-hour days. Barbara Lewis asked me to take charge of the rescue cats. I worked there daily for the next month. There were three cat rooms. Two for domesticated cats, and one for feral cats brought in. There were probably 50 cats at any particular time. My job was to oversee them. It meant making sure the kennels were cleaned, cat boxes emptied, cats and kittens were cuddled, and the medicines were administered properly.
It was under these extraordinary circumstances that I met the people who share their animal rescue experiences here. I hope their stories inspire readers to do what they can for all animals in need.
Animal rescue volunteer James L. Kirk, in his own words:
A week and a half after the May 20th tornado, I got a phone call from a friend who works at ARC. They needed volunteers for the animal rescue. I love animals, so I agreed to help.
My first job was in the warehouse. It was full of thousands of donated items that needed to be sorted out and palletized. Four days in, I realized that I hadn’t seen any of the animals! So, I visited the dog room first. I was immediately given a dog to walk. After walking six dogs, I decided to visit the cat room.
The kitties in there looked so sad and miserable that it made my heart hurt. I asked one of the helpers if I could hold and pet some of the cats. Soon, I had held almost all of the cats in the room! I was getting ready to leave to go back to the warehouse, when Bob Ingersoll stopped me. He wanted me to stay and help in the cat room. I ended up working in the cat room until the animal rescue program was finished – about a month or so. All the cats had either been found by their families or had been adopted. The volunteers that I worked with were awesome people. I was fortunate to make some new good friends. The time that I spent volunteering at the ARC changed my life. I have always loved animals, but never really realized that so many animals needed rescuing, not only in emergency situations, but every day. I now volunteer and foster for Safe Haven Animal Rescue, and will continue to do so for as long as I am able.
Animal rescue volunteer Zowe Osman Lenker, in her own words:
I was laid off in May and was looking for volunteer opportunities. I saw on a local news website that animals displaced from the tornado were being taken to the ARC for animal rescue. The center was asking for volunteers. I called them and got put on the schedule. I started walking dogs the minute I was signed in, after a brief orientation. So many animals, my heart was breaking!
Day 2: I met Bob, who asked if I had experience with cats and kittens. “Yes, I have three of my own,” I responded. He practically dragged me to the cat room! Again, so many, and with such sad faces… For the remainder of my time at ARC, I worked with the rescue cats and kittens. I also worked in the sick and quarantine rooms with both cats and dogs. I also worked with the vets and vet techs in the spay/neuter clinic, and helped with vaccinations and taking blood.
The volunteers I have met during the tornado animal rescue have inspired me, so giving and tireless in their efforts to help these little souls, who so much needed to be safe and wanted to be loved. It was hard work, but the most rewarding experience. I have made friends that I hope will last a lifetime. Extra special to me was that my grandson, Samson, wanted to volunteer with me, and we got to spend every day doing what we love to do. He is my hero, and I’m so very proud of him! The experience has forever changed me, how I look at life, how I view people, how inspired I’ve become to help animals. I have gone on to foster and volunteer with OKC Animal Welfare. It is something I believe in and I am proud of. The feeling I get from knowing I am saving lives just can’t be put into words.
The first day at ARC, I met the most loving and wonderful pit bull. She and I had an immediate bond. Ohhhh, those eyes! They tell a thousand stories and were so sad. Sophie went home with me permanently in June. I often wonder how someone could leave her behind, and feel very lucky that she is in my life. She is gentle, loyal and such a kind soul. I love her with all of my heart. Samson fell in love with a little tabby and white 5 week old kitten, and took extra special time with her, and gave her lots of love. Cinder, as she is now called, has a permanent home with us as well. She is an awesome little girl with lots of spunk.
Animal rescue volunteer Macy Schneeberger, in her own word:
When the tornado hit I could not take my eyes away from the news. I knew I had to help do something, but I had no idea where to start. I searched online for anything I could help with, and I saw that the animals were in dire need. There were “lost/missing” and “found” ads all over. I could not get these helpless animals and owners off my mind. I read all the Facebook pages that focused on these pets. I saw the ARC definitely needed help for the animal rescue.
My mom and I loaded up and were on our way to aid in the animal rescue efforts. After an emotional first day, we kept coming back and seemed to never leave. I saw so much heartbreak and so much emotion I still feel it to this day. I had to tell so many people that we didn’t have their pets. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. However, every once in a while we would have a reunion, and it made it all worth it.
This experience made me love some people and really dislike some others. I saw so many people tirelessly searching for their babies and not finding them. But, we also had so many pets that weren’t being looked for. It was completely unfair that those looking for their pets sometimes couldn’t find them. And those who weren’t being searched for were found and just not wanted.
I loved the pets that stayed in our care that were never claimed. They were some of the best animals I have ever met, and it was so sad to see them not going back to their family. However, the Adoption Event completely changed that. We had the longest lines I have ever seen with everyone wanting to help these abandoned animals, and that is exactly what they did. These animals went through such a horrible experience, but eventually got to go to the loving family they deserved. My entire summer was spent helping them, and it completely changed my life. I started the summer being on a pre-med educational track. But, after everything I’d experienced at ARC, I knew that animals had to be my life. I am now on track for veterinary school, and am so excited to help them for the rest of my life.
Slideshow of the volunteers and nimal rescue efforts by ARC:
This event was life changing for everyone in our community. The stories we share here are just a few examples of the many harrowing tales generated by this catastrophe. Clearly, the time that the volunteers spent at the ARC was life-altering. You can feel that sense when reading these true accounts presented here. My experiences at the ARC are ones I will never forget.
The animal rescue effort was difficult, exhausting, heart-wrenching and emotionally draining. But we went back every day, most of us, because we felt compelled to do what we could. Now looking back, I’m proud that I did my small part to aid my community and its animal refugees. I have gained a lot from the experience. I also gained new friends from my time at ARC. I want to thank James and Zowe and Macy for contributing their stories and feelings about our time together at ARC, and I want to thank all the new friends I gained through the experience. You are all awesome.
Our community is richer because of you and your big hearts. Thanks for doing everything you did.
Originally published, February 3, 2014