COH sent 3 of it’s volunteers ,Britney Herzog ,Kendra Albert and Patty O Guin to Joplin to assist the animals who had been affected by the tornado. We spent a total of 3 days on the ground scouring the areas which had been demolished. We had no idea how overwhelming the devastation was going to be when we left Kansas City. We had people give us addresses of pets who were still missing but it was so hard to locate the areas because all the street signs and street signs were gone. We did find a few streets where people had taken cardboard or whatever they could find and wrote the street name on it. The only real landmarks left to go by were St. John’s Hospital and a church which had been destroyed except for the huge cross that still stood. There was also no power, gas or water.
On our first day we walked through the rubble looking for surviving pets and keeping our eyes open for anything that would lead us to believe an animal had been there such as crates, dog houses, food bowls, pet toys,litter boxes. etc. Sadly the only thing we recovered was a dog who had died from his injuries. We took his little body to the Humane Soc so they could log in a description and check him for a microchip in case the owner was trying to locate him. Many of the animals had been carried for blocks or miles so the owners had no idea where to start looking.
The good news from that day is that a Husky and a Lab were both found trapped under the rubble of what used to be their homes and both were rescued and found uninjured and reunited with their owners.
Day 2 we spent most of our time driving through the areas looking for families who had returned to what once was their homes and offered emergency pet food and supplies and asked if they were still missing pets or if they knew of anyone who was. We talked with so many people who had lost everything they owned except the clothes on their backs yet they were more concerned with the safety of their pets than any of the material stuff they lost. Many of the stories we heard were heartbreaking. We met a man whose 13 year old daughter had been sucked out of a car and was in ICU at Children’s Mercy yet he was driving back and forth to assist those who still needed help in Joplin. Patty talked with a woman who was digging through the debris of what was her Aunt’s home looking for a birth certificate so she could claim her body and plan her funeral.
We also met a man and woman who went to their bed when the tornado came and held onto their 4 dogs with everything they had. They each held one and the other 2 they held down with their legs over them. Their home is now completely gone and 2 of their dogs died from injuries they sustained during the tornado. They were able to get the other 2 out safely. This man broke our hearts as he cried and said they found them both in the yard right afterward and he was glad he knew they didn’t suffer because he couldn’t stand the thought of them dying alone and scared.
We also met an elderly man of about 90 who had 2 cats. He was digging through his stuff and we spent some time talking with him. He had one family member who was killed and another who was still missing. His cats were hungry so we put food out for them and left him some to feed them in the days to come. He was so grateful as was everyone we met. We heard so many stories and it seemed everyone wanted to share their story. Maybe talking was one way for them to cope with what they had lived through and witnessed. Whatever the reason we were more than happy to listen and provide them with the supplies they needed for their pets.
By day 3 we did a little driving and a lot of walking again. As the temperature rose the smells began to surface and we had to accept the fact that the likelihood of finding surviving pets was slim. Once again we found a dead dog and a cat. It was absolutely heartbreaking but after being in the rubble for a week we were not able to transport them to the Humane Soc so we made them makeshift graves where we found them by wrapping them in blankets and covering their bodies. It was such a depressing day and we were so discouraged to think of all the pets still missing when we happened upon a woman who had 4 cats and a dog. She had her dog and 2 of her cats and knew a 3rd cat was still alive but it was too scared to come to her at that point. The 4th they believed was dead under the rubble of her bed. We decided to go up into what used to be the house and look. We figured finding it dead would at least give her some closure. Her home was gone outside of about 1/2 of a bedroom wall and her bed. The bed was still standing with the comforter and pillows on it untouched. As we pulled the wall away from the bed we saw the cat and could tell it was breathing. We were able to get her out and the owner came running to it. As soon as we placed the cat into her arms it just melted into her knowing it was safe again. It was extremely dehydrated and was trying to meow and hiss but no sound was coming out. She immediatly put it in her car and ran it to the vet. We are certain this cat is now safe back with it’s owner after a good round of IV fluids. One of the pictures shows the reunion. I didn’t get the woman’s name and tried to call her vet a few days later and they didn’t know who I was talking about. They said they had been swamped and had only been seeing injured tornado pets due to the volume of people with pets who needed vet care.
As the day came to a close we felt like our trip had been worth it if nothing else because one pet was reunited with it’s owner because we were there. Our hearts are with the pets and the people of Joplin. Thousands of families and pets will be picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild their lives for months to come. Many dogs and cats are still running at night when it gets dark and quiet because they are so traumatized and run when someone tries to help them. COH plans to return later this month when the curfew has been lifted with live traps to try and get some of these pets back with their owners. As heartbreaking as this experience was it was also extremely rewarding to know that COH was there for the animals of Joplin in their time of need.