The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 12, 2012

Joplin Humane Society finding ‘new normal’

Donations, volunteers decline despite remaining need

When Chris Zar and her family made their way out of the bathroom that sheltered them through the May 2011 tornado, she knew there was no way her five cats could have survived.

Zar searched what was left of her neighborhood near the site for the new Joplin High School and visited an emergency pet shelter. She finally began to accept the fact that her cats — she called them her babies — were either killed or lost in the storm.

Zar said that after moving and settling into a new place, she and her husband began feeling an emptiness.

“Something was missing, and we couldn’t really put a finger on it,” she said.

Realizing it was the absence of pets, she and her husband headed to the Joplin Humane Society, this time during the adopt-a-thon that was held June 25. They adopted two young cats, Trouble and Sugar, because, as she said, “Cats are like potato chips; you can’t have just one.”

Zar said she doesn’t think she has moved on from the loss of her five cats as much as she would like, but she is glad she was able to save her two new cats.

“There wasn’t anything I could do to protect them,” she said of her five previous cats. “I had to protect my family, and I saved two others who went through the same thing. ... We feel like (Trouble and Sugar) are the good thing that came out of the storm.”

More than a year after the tornado, Zar said, her pets are helping her heal.

“They take care of us, I swear, as much as we take care of them,” she said.

“They’re so calming. Sometimes I get to where I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, then one of them gets on my lap. Either Trouble does some silly antic, or Sugar just quietly sits beside me and purrs. It’s just the most calming, and everything’s OK.”

Pets can play an important role after a disaster, said Lysa Buehler, shelter manager with the Joplin Humane Society.

“Many people have pets that have been much more reliable and long-term than relationships,” she said. “They always understand and seem to be able to silently comfort us. It is critical to emotional recovery that people be able to keep their pets with them.”

“We view helping pets as helping people,” said Tim Rickey, a Joplin native who is the senior director of field investigations and response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “You reunite people with their pets and you recognize just how important their pets are.

“My animals are part of my family. Part of it is it makes your family whole again, and that can have a tremendous impact on your ability to recover.”

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