Pets rescued, treated after deadly tornado

Veterinarians, animal welfare organizations work in Joplin, Mo.
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Among five members of a family standing in an emergency animal shelter in Joplin, Mo., two were using crutches, one had a broken arm, and all had scars from recent cuts on their faces and arms, Tim Rickey said.

Like many who had come to the shelter, they seemed to be tired and depressed—until they found their pet.

"Within five minutes, they had located their dog, and the whole family had changed," Rickey said. "They were sitting on the floor, laughing, cutting up, and having a great time, and that's why we do this. It's a resource that's really needed in these communities."

Rickey is senior director of the field investigations and response team for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as a native of Joplin, where a tornado flattened a wide swath of the town May 22, killing 142 people and an unknown number of animals. He described the "heartbreaking" devastation that destroyed neighborhoods, leveled landmarks, and heavily damaged massive buildings such as the high school he attended 20 years earlier.

Humane Society responders search the Joplin tornado debris
The Humane Society of Missouri volunteers and staff members recovered animals that were lost, injured, or trapped in debris following the deadly May 22 tornado in Joplin, Mo.

"You go into the center of this town and you can see the hospital, which is miles and miles away, because there's literally nothing across the landscape," Rickey said.

Emily Schneider, a spokeswoman for the ASPCA, said her organization was called by the Joplin Humane Society to lead the emergency animal shelter operation in Joplin. More than 100 volunteers and staff members with the ASPCA and other animal welfare-focused organizations, including the American Humane Association, Humane Society of the United States, United Animal Nations, and Sumter Disaster Animal Response Team, have been working at the animal shelters.

About 400 animals had been reunited with their owners by early June, and about 600 more were still in an ASPCA shelter established in two warehouses, Schneider said. About 500 dogs were recovered, along with cats, ferrets, rabbits, turtles, pigs, chickens, and a few fish. The ASPCA had become focused on reuniting people with animals, although a team had set up traps that brought in more than 100 loose cats. One Dachshund was recovered alive from rubble about 10 days after the tornado.

Dr. Linda Scorse, a veterinarian in a village neighboring Joplin and Missouri's representative to the AVMA House of Delegates, said her clinic in Duquesne was unharmed by the tornado, but clients' homes five blocks south were destroyed.

"There are clinics in town that did suffer severe damage," Dr. Scorse said. "One is just nonexistent—closed, just walls standing there. The other one had severe roof damage and no power for a while."

All animals that were being housed in the destroyed clinic at the time of the tornado survived, because they were protected by concrete walls between the dog runs, Dr. Scorse said.

Many of Dr. Scorse's clients have brought pets for boarding while the owners looked for places to stay, and some were waiting at her clinic's doorstep the morning after the tornado.

Surviving pets seem to be more anxious, particularly when they hear a train or loud noise, Dr. Scorse said. Some cats boarded at her clinic didn't eat for three days after the tornado. One dog she examined might have benefited from some medication for its inflamed ears and eyes, but she decided against the treatment, since it was likely to cause increased anxiety in an already nervous animal.

Dr. Maynard B. Jones, a veterinarian and fire chief from Versailles, Mo., was in Joplin two days after the tornado with a state incident management team, and he saw more complete devastation there than he saw in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. He helped state authorities secure resources, including search dogs from neighboring states, as well as worked with the Humane Society of Missouri to schedule veterinarians for work at shelters.

Humane Society responders in Joplin
Responders with the Humane Society of Missouri carry a cat rescued during work in Joplin. (Courtesy of the Humane Society of Missouri)

Rickey said an amazing number of animals survived the tornado with little to no injury, much like some of the people who crawled from collapsed buildings with barely a scratch. But he has also seen substantial injuries to animals, including lacerations, broken limbs, and eye injuries.

"Many, many animals perished in this," Rickey said. "There is a large pet population in the city of Joplin. We have right at 900 animals that have come through the shelter; there are probably thousands upon thousands of animals that were in this specific area."

The animals have received medical care from veterinarians in Joplin and other areas of Missouri, Rickey said. By the time he arrived in town the morning after the tornado, several veterinarians were already performing emergency care at a shelter. About 15 veterinarians were volunteering by the end of the day. Since then, the shelters have had six to 12 providing care daily.

Rickey praised Missouri's Volunteer Veterinary Corps, which has provided veterinarians from around the state to work shifts in the shelters. The veterinarians have attended to injured animals, administered vaccines, performed examinations, and implemented disease control protocols.

Although a few puppies were found to be infected with parvovirus, they were treated and isolated without any indication the disease had spread, Rickey said.

Dr. Charles E. Massengill, director of the Missouri Volunteer Veterinary Corps, said veterinarians able to volunteer at least two consecutive days in Joplin were called to work at the emergency clinics. Veterinarians and veterinary students with the corps gave hundreds of hours of work.

Jeane Jae, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Missouri, said her organization sent a team of 17 staff members and six volunteers trained in disaster response to Joplin following the tornado. The organization operated an animal shelter on the campus of Missouri Southern State University, recovered pets that were lost or trapped because of the storm, rescued trapped animals such as some chickens in an enclosure, and left food and water in areas where animals could be hiding, organization announcements state.

Pets recovered from the debris field needed care both for immediate injuries and previously existing maladies, Dr. Massengill said. Sustained support included vaccination and routine veterinary care.

The Joplin operations started within a month and a half after the ASPCA provided emergency responses to storms and floods in other locations in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, Rickey said. The responses have taxed the organization's resources, but ASPCA leaders consider the operations to be crucial.

Tim Rickey, ASPCA, with a dog
Tim Rickey, a native of Joplin, Mo., led the response by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals following the tornado that leveled homes and businesses and killed 142 people. (Courtesy of the ASPCA)

"These people have lost everything, and the opportunity to be reunited with their pets or to have our team take care of their pets while they're figuring out what to do alleviates a tremendous amount of stress," Rickey said.

The ASPCA is asking for monetary donations, particularly donations to the Joplin Humane Society, according to Schneider. The local organization has had limited resources but will need continued support as the community recovers, Schneider said. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is also collecting donations for relief and reimbursement grants for veterinarians whose clinics were damaged or who treated animals harmed by the tornado.

Michael Cathey, executive director of the AVMF, expects numerous requests for grants because of all the tornado in Joplin and other tornadoes and floods this spring.

"We recognize and understand that veterinarians are tending to the crisis, and we stand ready to support them after the fact with any needs they may identify," Cathey said.

The Joplin Humane Society is collecting donations at, the ASPCA at, the AVMF at, and the Humane Society of Missouri at