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A dog from the Playtime with Puppies event at South Green on April 21, 2017.

Disaster Animal Response Team searching for volunteers in Athens

Most people know the number to call when trouble comes knocking, but knowing who to call when smaller counterparts are in danger can be a little trickier. This is where DART comes in. 

DART, which stands for Disaster Animal Response Team, is an organization that stretches across many counties throughout Ohio. It’s composed of teams of volunteers who work tirelessly to keep beloved animals safe. DART specifically protects animals that have owners or strays of those same species typically owned by humans.

“People do not want to leave their pets, this causes problems when trying to evacuate people or get them out of a hazardous situation,” Melody Barnhart, deputy director at the Athens County Emergency Management Agency, wrote in an email. “Encouraging them to bring their pets and provide a safe place for them helps alleviate this stress.”

During times of disasters, it is hard to account for everyone, but without the comfort of our smaller companions, relief efforts can seem daunting and depression can set in.

“I've done some response between Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and the California Angel Fire, so we’ve had experience seeing how animals impacted response efforts,” said Barnhart.

Unbeknownst to many, Athens is a county that has an operational DART team, but is struggling to fill volunteer positions necessary to make a difference should a disaster occur.

Tina Scott, the vice president for Friends of Shelter Dogs, explained other groups were invited to a meeting to discuss possible collaborations with DART in the future.

“I think that they're looking for other interested groups that might have resources or volunteers that could participate if there is an event that needs to be addressed,” said Scott.

A lot of the time, these volunteers are Ohio University students such as Stacey McKnight, a junior studying biological sciences.

“I'm really involved with volunteering at the Athens County Dog Shelter,” said McKnight. “We mostly walk the dogs, trying to get them out of their kennels as much as we can.... One of the things that OU kind of lacks in if you're a pre-vet major is animal experience."

She said if someone has the opportunity, volunteering for organizations outside the university is a perfect way to fill that hole.

While McKnight works closely with the Friends of Shelter Dogs organization, she was unaware Athens had an animal response team. Now that she knows about it, she said she would consider volunteering with DART in the future.

“Yeah, for sure, that would be something that I would definitely be interested in,” McKnight said.

As a pre-vet major, or simply an animal lover, Athens’ DART is a great way to get experience working with the pets you love. 

“All of our other animals are part of our routine, our day-to-day – it's that consistency and normalcy that we strive for,” said Barnhart. “Even when the world's falling apart around me, there's that piece that I can hang on to knowing that here's my dog, safe and comfortable.”

With all the comfort these animals provide, Barnhart encourages people to consider giving back. For more information visit the Athens County EMA website or their Facebook page.


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