After learning of its plans to go national, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation awarded Basic Animal Rescue Training, a Minnesota-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit program, a $50,000 challenge grant to help jump-start chapters in five additional states.
Since December 2004, BART has trained more than 1,500 first responders, mainly firefighters, with the knowledge base and equipment necessary to safely and effectively handle companion animals, horses, and livestock encountered in emergency situations.
One of the program's priorities during national expansion will be to maintain a consistent curriculum for first responders by securing leadership and volunteers for each new chapter. Each of the five states establishing new chapters will receive an equal portion of the AVMF challenge grant once the funds are matched.
"The grant will help establish chapters with a train-the-trainer course, and also cover some of their initial equipment costs," said Dr. Karina Burger, vice president of BART. A large animal veterinarian, Dr. Burger joined the program in early 2005 when it expanded beyond companion animals to include equine and livestock training.
Dr. Burger works closely with Dr. Janet Olson, a small animal veterinarian and founder of BART. She started the program after the fire department where her husband serves as a firefighter unsuccessfully tried to rescue a German Shorthaired Pointer named Bart in a house fire. The program was developed to honor the memory of Bart, and to ensure that fewer families suffer a similar loss.
Since its establishment, BART has operated entirely on charitable donations and grants—all training and medical kits are free. The Minnesota VMA and the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Foundation have provided ample support for the program.
To date, the AVMF grant is the largest amount of funds ever donated to BART, Dr. Burger said.
The $50,000 grant to BART was also one of the highest amounts of money that the AVMF has awarded a program from its Animal Disaster Relief and Response Fund, aside from the grants provided to the AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams. Dr. Anna van Heeckeren, chair of the AVMF Grants and Awards Committee, said that the foundation decided on the award because of the prospect of BART expanding nationally.
"We figured if they could get five states to match those funds, they could really demonstrate that they can bring this on a national level," Dr. van Heeckeren said.
One of the greatest challenges ahead for BART, Dr. Burger said, is establishing several sustainable salary positions. Maintaining the program has become a full-time job for several individuals, who are currently driven by enthusiasm and passion alone, she said. She also noted that more volunteers are needed to branch out nationally. Since 2004, BART has recruited and trained more than 100 volunteers to teach the classes. The volunteers are veterinarians, veterinary technicians, or students who are studying to become veterinarians or veterinary technicians.
Although there will be challenges, BART has already grown rapidly in terms of the number of volunteers and first responders trained, and shows no signs of slowing down. One of the group's most notable accomplishments was training the Minneapolis Fire Department in early 2006. More than 440 firefighters were trained.
"Animal rescues have been happening on the job here at MFD for many years," said Charlotte Holt, deputy chief of emergency medical services for the fire department.
"But what has changed since our department-wide BART training is that now our folks feel empowered to make the rescue," Holt said. "They have been given the skills and tools to be far more effective and (provide) better care for these very vulnerable and often helpless members of our families."
To learn more about BART, including how to become a volunteer or set up a chapter in a state, visit www.BasicAnimalRescueTraining.org. For instructions on submitting applications for funding through the AVMF Disaster Relief and Response Fund, or to make a donation to the AVMF, log on to www.avmf.org.