JOPLIN, Mo. —
When Batman, a golden retriever mix, was reunited with his owner Wednesday afternoon at the Joplin Humane Society, he was greeted with lots of hugs and smiles.
“I was really scared. I didn’t think I was going to find him,” said his owner, Jeremy Samuel, of Joplin. “I’m excited. I’m ecstatic.”
Batman is one of hundreds of displaced animals in Joplin left without a home after Sunday’s tornado. But several shelters have been set up across the city.
At Missouri Southern State University’s Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, displaced residents with pets can stay in the gymnasium while their pets can stay on the bottom floor. The Humane Society of Missouri is running the shelter, and it also has sent out a team to canvass the disaster area in search of more animals.
The Joplin Humane Society’s Animal Adoption & Resource Center, 140 E. Emperor Lane, with the help of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is taking in animals from the tornado. Temporary housing has been set up in the large metal warehouses next to the center, where Dent and Ding Appliance is located.
Karen Aquino, executive director of the local Humane Society, said some dogs from the disaster area have been found as far away as Webb City and Carl Junction.
“At the beginning of a disaster, you generally don’t find a lot of animals because they’ve hunkered down,” Aquino said. “Dogs generally run, and then in a few days they start coming in.”
About 250 displaced animals are at the shelter and warehouses, and Aquino said she expects that number to increase. Injured and surrendered animals are being housed at the center, with rescued animals being held at the warehouses. Most animals did not have collars.
More than a dozen veterinarians have gone to the center to help with triage and care. Since supplies have been donated and the vets are volunteering, pet owners will not be charged for the care their animals have received, Aquino said.
Aquino said the center plans to keep the animals for at least 14 days, and then adopt or transport unclaimed animals to a rescue unit at another shelter. But, if animals are claimed and the owners cannot currently house them, they can stay at the shelter.
There have been problems with people taking animals that weren’t theirs.
“What’s happening now is that people from Minnesota are coming into the strike zone and taking animals and going back to Minnesota,” Aquino said. “These are owned animals — they shouldn’t be doing that. So that’s become a real issue, and animal control is trying to prevent it. It happened in Katrina. It happens in nearly every disaster, and they’re well-meaning but they make a horrific situation worse.”
When an animal is brought in, staff members take the animal’s picture, give it a collar with a number on it, create a description of the animal, and post that information to a database and online. People trying to find their pets can go to the warehouses and be shown around.
Tim Rickey, senior director of field investigations and response for the ASPCA, has taken over the emergency shelter in the warehouses.
Rickey said the operation currently does not need any more donated supplies, but cash donations to continue the work are needed. Rickey said his team has operated in several states.
“We do hurricanes, tornadoes and floods all the time,” he said. “It’s a professional search and rescue group, professional sheltering team, and our goal is to always come in and provide these resources and alleviate some of the stress on the local organization and the community and deal with their day-to-day operations. … Our team is just trying to get this up and running so the staff at the Joplin Humane Society can deal with their personal lives.”
Aquino said a volunteer plan will be in place in the next few days.
DETAILS ARE AVAILABLE by calling 417-623-3642, visiting www.joplinhumane.org, or finding the Joplin Humane Society’s Animal Adoption & Resource Center on Facebook.