Oklahoma Tornado Project: Returning/Rehoming Pets Lost in the Storm
In the days and weeks following the May 20th tornado, hundreds of animals were lost and shuffled between individuals’ homes, triage clinics and shelters. Nearly two-thirds of the animals were returned to their original owners, leaving nearly 300 with new families. Kate Carlton looks at two groups’ efforts to find homes for the dogs and cats misplaced by the storm.
Robin Lindsey is a high school counselor at the Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City. She lived in Moore at the time of the tornado, but was at the hospital with her ailing father the day the storm destroyed her home. When she returned to her neighborhood, Lindsey searched tirelessly for her two dogs, Porkchop and Precious.
“I went all around and called and everything, but it was totally quiet,” Lindsey says. ”There was no sound at all.
Lindsey found Precious the following day amongst the rubble that was previously her home, but Porkchop was still missing. A few days later though, a family friend saw a picture of the 8-pound Shih Tzu on the Animal Resource Center’s Facebook page. Lindsey was ecstatic.
“We were looking at the picture they had emailed us to make sure it was her,” Lindsey says. ”I was running through the house and jumping up and down and squealing.”
Lindsey realizes how lucky she was. And Animal Resource Center Board President Barbara Lewis agrees. She says many owners had a more difficult time finding their dogs and cats.
“A lot of people took animals they found to their local veterinarians, so they were being boarded at a dozen different veterinarians around the area,” Lewis says. ”So that’s why a lot of the animals actually were not found is because they were not put into the system.”
Amy Schrodes at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society says it took time to get everything organized, which prevented people from knowing where to go.
“It was kind of, in the beginning, a wild goose chase until we could get all the shelters structured and then we were able to put the message out to the general public: If you find an animal in Moore, this is where you take it,” Schrodes says.
The Department of Agriculture could not determine exactly how many pets were lost. And that’s partly because, like Lewis and Schrodes said, people were taking animals to so many different places. There were, officially, three main shelters that housed roughly 750 pets in the immediate aftermath of the storm: The Cleveland County Fairgrounds, The Central Oklahoma Humane Society and The Animal Resource Center, which had never before served in this capacity.
“We are not set up to house animals,” Lewis says. ”We don’t have equipment or anything to take care of animals here. They didn’t know where to go because the Moore Animal Shelter is very small so there really wasn’t any place for them to go, and so they came here because we are a big facility and we have a lot of room.”
The Animal Resource Center has only one staff member and is run by volunteers. Lewis says more than 11-hundred people showed up in the days and weeks following the tornado to help feed animals, clean cages and walk dogs. Many volunteers were also in charge of updating the so-called “Reunion Boards,” or bulletin boards with animal pictures so people could check and see if their pets were at a specific shelter.
“It just makes it a lot easier for the public when they’re looking for their animals if they don’t have to run to 5 or 6 different places in town, if we can funnel them to one or two main shelters, that’s going to help facilitate reunions,” Schrodes says.
Schrodes says these boards helped significantly, but there were still nearly 300 pets that were not reunited with their original owners. She hopes next time people will wait to rush out and grab animals until there’s a set plan in place.
“It would be great to have the general public give us a couple of days, you know, 24 hours, to figure out the different shelters that are going to be set up and which animals are going to go where,” Schrodes says.
For now, the Animal Resource Center plans to hire people who can handle the volunteers, pet owners and the pallets of donations that poured in following the storms.
Funding for the Oklahoma Tornado Project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.