Joel Hersh, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team, talks with visitors at the Pennsylvania Farm  Show Thursday
Joel Hersh, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team, talks with visitors at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Thursday (JOHN A. PAVONCELLO-jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

It happens so often that it's become an inside joke.

Whenever the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team has to fulfill its mission in York County, executive director Joel Hersh sends a snarky email to Linda Spahr, a response team board member and educator at the York County Penn State Cooperative Extension.

"I always say, 'Oh, another one?'" Hersh said. "York County has so many intinerant goats and sheep that it's a joke anymore."

But he wasn't laughing at the lost, wandering animals -- just at the fact that Spahr has often had to take home a goat or sheep until an owner is located.

Hersh, Spahr and several other volunteers across the state sign up to rescue domestic and farm animals during emergencies.

Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team, a Harrisburg nonprofit served by volunteers, set up an exhibitor booth at the Pennsylvania Farm Show this week to raise awareness about what it does.

Locally the group has an arrangement with the York County SPCA to serve as an emergency shelter for animals, but across the state the group sets up makeshift shelters in spaces often shared by the Red Cross, and federal and state emergency management agencies.

When Tropical Storm Lee dumped a foot of water on York County, the Animal Response Team saved 500 animals.

When Hurricane Sandy caused damage and outages throughout eastern Pennsylvania, the team set up 25 shelters in 18 counties and saved 200 animals.


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This week, they reminded owners to protect their dogs from the arctic chill, listing several tips on their website at www.pasart.us.

"Getting information out about what we do is often the biggest challenge," said Diane Sharpless, Carbon County coordinator.

That's coming from someone who learned how to move a horse.

In August, it took 27 people from three different counties to move a horse stuck in the mud, she said.

"We train for 40 hours to learn how to move large animals," Sharpless said.

There are several levels of training that involve scenarios including both natural and man-made disasters.

The training is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is taught at Penn State and community colleges.

The state Animal Response Team assists both FEMA and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

"It takes help from a lot of different areas to care for the animals," Sharpless said.

--Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.