"I was made aware of the opportunity to help the people and pets of Joplin, Missouri with tornado recovery through an e-mail alert from NAVTA to its members. I flew out of Redmond, Oregon on June 12th and arrived in Fayetteville, Arkansas late that evening. After spending the night in Arkansas, an animal control officer from Spokane, Washington and myself drove to Joplin. After a brief but thorough orientation, we were assigned our duties. Each morning thereafter began with a briefing and duty assignments. The first two days of my deployment were spent in local relief. That entailed passing out free pet food and supplies to tornado victims and their pets. We received donations of pet supplies from local residents and some from as far away as Virginia. During this assignment I heard many heartfelt stories about the extent of the disaster and the hardships that were endured by both people and pets of the area.
The next two days of my deployment were spent insuring the continued supply of clean and useable crates, cages and food and water dishes, and the final two days were spent assisting with the spay and neuter clinic. I was stationed in the recovery area of the clinic. This was a mash type unit with close to 200 companion animals that were spayed, neutered, vaccinated and tested for several diseases and parasites. Some of the patients belonged to people from the local community who were victims of the disaster and some were pets recovered from the disaster who had not been reunited with their families. Those pets that were not reunited were to be placed up for adoption.
It was an awesome and rewarding experience. It was great to see so many people from different parts of the country and so many different organizations, including NAVTA come together to help out fellow Americans in their time of need."
- Randy Wilson, BS, CVT - Oregon
I was able to go to Joplin towards the tail (no pun intended) end of the operation. I flew out of Salt Lake City and was able to meet up with some fellow responders in Dallas. I picked them out of the crowd because they were talking about dogs (really!). We flew directly into Joplin and were able to get a view of the tornado strike zone from the air. We arrived on the first day of the super adoption and were amazed at the number of people there taking animals to their forever homes. I was assigned to the Joplin Humane Society where I did rounds and helped medicate the dozens of animals housed at JHS. That night, we helped process, test, and vaccinate the hundreds of animals that were brought in from other shelters to meet the adoption demands. The next day I did rounds with the vets for all the adoptable and owned animals, assisted with potential adopters, and then went back to JHS to test/vaccinate animals who were heading over to be adopted. Towards the end of the day, we couldn’t get animals fast enough—the moment they walked through the door, they were being chosen by adoptive families. It was such an overwhelming experience to see so many hundreds of people hungry to help these animals! The rest of my week started with doing rounds and treatments in the adoption facilities, then going to Joplin Humane Society to aid in the spay/neuter process of all the adopted animals. Not one animal left the premised until it was fixed. We did dozens of surgeries each day with the help of volunteer vets from all over Missouri. I was able to help organize and inventory the huge numbers of supplies that had been donated from all over the country as well.
I was truly touched by the sheer scale of this operation. It was amazingly organized and effective. The most overwhelming part, however, was being surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of animal-loving people just like me. We all spoke the same language, loved the animals and the people of Joplin, and were all touched by the spirit of community and resilience that was practically tangible in the air. It was a life-changing experience for me and I cannot wait to be involved with another operation like this—in making the future better for the animals and people touched by tragedy.
- Heather Riggs, B.A., CVT - Utah
I went to Joplin 3 days before the huge adoption event. Getting there was a little tricky as my connecting flight was cancelled, and then I was re-routed. When I finally arrived in Springfield, my luggage wasn’t with me. I found out later from more experienced responders to never check your bag when deploying - note taken! I was fortunate enough to stay with the landlord from whom I rent in CA. She lives in Joplin and was a few blocks away from the tornado damage. I had the benefit of AC and running water at the end of my day, unlike many other volunteers who were “roughing it” in campers and trailers on-site.
The first 2 days I was there I was assigned to reunification. I did get to see about 6 people come in and locate their animals, but many more didn’t. Several people said that they didn’t care about losing their homes as much as losing their animals. It was a challenge to “keep it together” when people were so emotional and sharing their grief with you.
Lots of people shared their stories with me of where they were when the tornado came. One man and his family came in looking for their dog. They had two but had only found one of them. They found the one dog when the police accompanied them in. He said they found the dog under a pile of rubble in what used to be the bathroom, and they thought at first that he was dead because he was lying there and not moving, but as soon as they started pulling him out, he sprang up kind of on full alert and then realized who was there! It was so lucky that they found him! I had also been told that there was a doggy daycare that had been demolished in the tornado, but at the time no one was sure if all of the dogs had been recovered.
The ASPCA did a fantastic job of rescuing animals as soon as they got on the ground. In fact, one of the first ASPCA employees to arrive told me that they had gotten in really late the next night, had been there for only for a short time, and were trying to set up when the sirens went off. Everyone took off for the nearest tornado safe areas (about a block away). They were there about an hour until they could safely leave. They got back to the area and tried to get started again, and again the sirens went off. Back they went! I’m so glad that the entire time wasn’t like that!
The next two days I was participating in the Adopt-a-thon, handling the cat adoption applications. It was so amazing seeing so many people coming to adopt and from so far away. It was a miserably hot couple days, but people’s spirits were so high.
I have since been keeping in touch with some of the people I met there, both from the ASPCA and citizens from the area. I had the opportunity to meet several people who were on the humane law enforcement part of the ASPCA at the Adopt-a-thon, since they had the crime scene van there so people could come in and look around it. I am currently an instructor in a veterinary technician program, but am enrolled in Criminal Justice Bachelors program with a focus in emergency management, and then plan on enrolling in an animal forensics masters program. I got to meet one of the instructors from the Master’s program, and he was very encouraging and supportive of my plan. When I left, I thanked Tony, and the other ICS (Incident Command System) people for the opportunity. It not only made me feel better about humanity in general, but it also gave me the chance to get a feel for my plan of career choice to see if it is something I would like. I told them that they would see me again! I figured that since I get two weeks of vacation a year, I will spend at least one of those weeks deployed. There is always help needed even if not in a disaster, whenever you hear about hoarding, puppy mills, or dog fighting operations being exposed….those animals need care too.
- Anita Levy, RVT - California