Although I remember hearing the news of the tornadoes that hit Joplin, MO in May, I didn’t realize the extent of the devastation until I arrived on Thursday, June 23rd. The Joplin, Missouri tornado arrived on May 22, 2011; it was the deadliest tornado in the united states since 1950 and claimed the lives of over 140 people.
The ASPCA has gotten together with the Joplin Humane Society to create a massive operation called the Joplin, MO Tornado Response. It includes three huge warehouses; one holding over 400 dogs, another with 400+ cats and the third holding all of the supplies to run the operation along with other supplies from around the country for residents affected by the storm. The operation has required a solid crew of a minimum of 120 people to re-create a shelter environment and care for the animals as best they can. When the ASPCA contacted the Animal Rescue League of Boston to assist with this disaster response, I was happy to represent the ARLB and The Center for Shelter Dogs.
When I arrived and walked around the temporary rescue shelter site I came to realize their vision had become a reality even under extreme circumstance. They were successfully running this temporary rescue shelter and I was there to help continue their mission.
My assignment began in the dog warehouse. When I walked in, the air immediately seemed cooler, which was refreshing for many reasons but mostly because we knew the dogs were staying cool with temps predicted in the 100’s the rest of the week. The dogs were sectioned off by temporary gating and fencing and housed in crates with cardboard barriers all around them. It was loud but looked and smelled relatively clean considering there were more than 400 dogs inside. The sections were labeled: stray puppy area, boarded dogs area (dogs with owners who were currently looking for housing), general stray population, fractious stray (mostly fearful but otherwise non-aggressive) and isolation stray. Dania Tonelli and I were assigned to the ‘fractious’ dog section. I quickly learned that the best way to team up for this project was to have one person walk while the other stayed behind and cleaned. It worked well and seemed efficient.
The next day I was switched from dog walking to working as a volunteer manager helping register and orient new ASPCA responder volunteers as well as assigning community volunteers to where they were needed. We had so many ASPCA responder and community volunteers coming through the door – some from Joplin and surrounding towns, others from a few hours away, and some from as far as Vancouver, British Columbia – people just cared so much and just genuinely wanted and needed to help.
One of the most touching experiences was when a couple came in to get their time card signed off. The woman was telling me how much she depended on “Joe” (the guy with her) because he had been helping her so much since the tornado hit, since she lost her husband in the storm. She seemed so grateful to Joe for his help and the one small thing she could do for him was to take him to our site to get his time card signed off so he could get paid. There were so many more stories like that.
There were lots of tears shed in Joplin: tears of joy because of the amount of response, tears of sadness for all of the animals that were displaced by the devastation of the tornado and also tears of awe because of the amazing operation that the ASPCA had put together for these animals that really needed and deserved the help.
-Laney MacDougall, Behavior Programs Supervisor, Center for Shelter Dogs