Several months ago the nation gasped in horror as news channels ran images of destruction in Missouri following a massive natural disaster. A powerful tornado swept through the town of Joplin, raising fears of an unnaturally powerful storm season ahead.
Out of the disaster came relief efforts for people and for animals alike when the Joplin Humane Society took in over 900 animals – three times its normal capacity! So many animals flooded the shelter that three barn-like structures were set up to host the dogs, cats, and even donated medical supplies.
Teams from the ASPCA sent out calls for help as the Joplin shelter prepared for a massive Adopt-A-Thon, where adoption fees were waived in the hopes of finding every animal a new home. In an effort to make this run as smoothly as possible, our staff and volunteers were asked to go out and assist the shelter’s clean-up efforts for several days.
Two volunteers ended up hopping on a plane to Missouri: Brad Smith (who works with dogs, cats, and assists with special events event) and Corey Pannier (who works with cats and helps with events as well.)
Impressions of Joplin left both volunteers stunned. Images don’t always convey the true extent of damage. While in Joplin our volunteers learned that the scale that measures tornado strength has been rewritten to include the powerful storm that hit Joplin. Still, our volunteers were welcomed so warmly that the town felt just as comforting as it did horrifying. Smith and Pannier went to work with the ASPCA and the Joplin shelter, which fortunately did not suffer any damage in the twister.
Our volunteers soon saw that the Adopt-A-Thon was a huge success! Over 700 animals found homes in one day during this event; in fact the Joplin shelter had to call for animals to be brought in to continue the adoptions the next day. Smith and Pannier assisted in the clean-up duty after this massive effort, washing crates and prepping animals to move out, as well as loading supplies into trailers.
Pannier described the set-up as an organized mess; cages were covered with blankets and insulated with cardboard to minimize animal’s stress levels as well as to keep sick animals in isolation. Different sections of the massive barn-like structures hosted animals that were either sick, being boarded for owners with no home, or were available for adoption.
Perhaps the hardest thing Pannier dealt with was seeing mothers with kittens in the shelter. At the same time, he was impressed to learn about a response team featured by PetSmart, a partner of many animal shelters (including us); the team responds within 12 to 24 hours if anyone calls for help. 12 trucks of cat and dog food and supplies can go out to any spot if needed.
Though he and Smith only volunteered for a few days, Pannier feels as if he did a lot of good for the clean-up efforts. He also feels that the trip highlighted the importance of volunteers at animal shelters – and the importance of planning for disasters.
“I think more shelters should ask for help and I think shelters should set up disaster plans between shelters. If the Joplin shelter was damaged, what would they have done? I think all shelters should consider having a plan for winter storms or summer storms or floods that could damage one shelter or another. There should be a course of action we can follow to help out.”
by Larissa Gula