Joplin Tornado: 600 Animals Still in Limbo

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click to enlarge Toto's not the only dog whose life was upended by a tornado -- rescue workers in Joplin have helped 900 animals.
Toto's not the only dog whose life was upended by a tornado -- rescue workers in Joplin have helped 900 animals.
You can see their faces on the web site for the Joplin Humane Society: eager, sad, hopeful.

They are the animals of Joplin, Missouri, displaced by the tornado that tore through town two weeks ago. Originally totaling nearly 900, today there are just 600 of them -- but that's still far more than anyone would wish.

The operation to house these pets and care for them requires military precision: 115 workers in four teams organized a pretty substantial compound. There's an entire warehouse of cats. There's a warehouse of dogs. There's a third warehouse, full of the fortunate few: the 100 or so dogs whose owners have identified them, even they're currently incapable of claiming them just yet. Finally, there's the humane society building next door, which is housing injured or sick animals, along with the ones who require extra TLC.

And really, after all they've been through, can you blame them?

But Tim Rickey of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, tells Daily RFT that everybody's doing pretty well, all things considered. "Animals are so resilient," he says. "Most of the animals are doing just fine -- even the cats."

The Missouri-based Rickey and his team have had a whirlwind spring, which began with trips to assist after tornadoes struck a trio of southeastern states, continued with trips to Memphis and southeastern Missouri to assist with animals affected by flooding there, and finally culminated with the Joplin tornado, the deadliest in the U.S. since 1950.

But if anything has defined the team's time in Joplin, it's been the community's willingness to get involved.

"From a resource and volunteer standpoint, I or anybody on my team has never seen such an outpouring as we have in Joplin," he says. "It's amazing -- a lot of the stuff's that been donated has even come from Joplin. We got trucks from Arizona, Texas, yes, but the vast majority has been stuff like, a husband and wife go to Wal-Mart, buy ten bags of dog food and bring it out.

"It speaks very highly of the community," he adds, sounding almost overwhelmed.

And it's entirely necessarily. As Rickey explains, roughly a third of the 900 animals displaced by the storm have been reunited. But while another 100 have been IDed by their owners, they're still in limbo -- along with 500 pets who, at this point, have had no one step forward to claim them.

The teams on site are doing their best to upload photos of each animal. But, astoundingly, their number only continues to grow. Early Friday morning, twelve days after the tornado changed Joplin forever, workers were able to dig a dog out of the rubble -- battered but still alive.

"It was a little bit surprising, but not completely shocking," Rickey says. "I've seen this before -- three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, we were still finding animals who were still alive -- they are just so resilient."

Eventually, if no owners can be found, the 500 or so unclaimed pets in Joplin will be put up for adoption. For now, the hope is still reunification, Rickey says.

If you want to help, by the way, he urges donating to the Joplin Humane Society, not sending additional materials. "We've gotten all the supplies we need," he says. "We have pet food in abundance. But the Joplin Humane Society lost a significant part of its donor base, its adoption base and its volunteer base...Every disaster we see, the first thing that suffers are the non-profit organizations."

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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