My daughter spent Memorial Day weekend in Joplin, Missouri as a volunteer with the ASPCA. She has contacts with many ASPCA, Humane Society and Emergency Preparedness people because her recent Master Report tackled the problem of pet rescue in emergencies. She spent a lot of time interviewing a large number of people so she is on many lists and was able to answer the call for volunteers.
Each volunteer going to Joplin had to be as self-sufficient as possible, bringing their own food and water, and either a tent or camper, or plan to sleep in their car. It was grueling work - 12 hour days. I was worried because after the sun goes down, like rats, people flock into the vast destroyed area of that town to loot. People who would do such a thing would not think twice of harming a single woman alone in a tent. Luckily, a friend who lives ten minutes from Joplin opened her home to my daughter. No sleeping unprotected while looters and other vermin scurry about under the cover of darkness.
When my daughter first arrived, there were about 200 animals in the care of the ASPCA. Three days later, there were close to 600 and the numbers continue to climb. When my daughter chose animal rescue in disaster planning for her Master Report, her arrogant male professor thought it was ridiculous and would not approve her idea. He is one of those human beings who simply cannot see the value of animals to humans. There are many who agree with his thinking. Luckily for my daughter, a woman professor mentored and advised her until the idea was in a form the principle professor grudgingly approved. The final product is a matrix any community can use in planning for animal rescue should they experience a large-scale disaster.
What my daughter experienced in Joplin was a group of professional, unflappable, organized and dedicated people who have a successful system that directs and harnesses the large numbers of volunteers who willingly arrive to help. Animals are brought in, and each one is assessed, given triage, tested, immunized, treated for worms, fleas, scanned for identification. They are fed and watered, walked, and given human companionship. Any animal that was once a pet to a human being was brought in and cared for: dogs, cats, bunnies - even gold fish were found and brought in by the volunteers who were searching the wreckage.
One of the tasks assigned to my daughter was to accompany people through the kennels at the ASPCA site to identify their animals. Too bad the cranky old professor was not there to witness the true value of the human/animal bond. People who had literally lost every material thing - cut, bruised and limping - came every day looking for their pets. One seriously injured old couple, who probably would have still been in the hospital under ordinary circumstances, came every day. The man could not leave the car but his wife, her face deeply bruised, slowly limped through each day looking for their second dog. They had found one of their two dogs dead and hoped the other had survived and would be found by the volunteers.
A young war veteran on crutches and his mother had lost every material thing but showed up every day looking for a cat. When the soldier came home wounded, his mother had given him a kitten to help cheer him up and provide companionship as he healed. For the three days my daughter was there, the cat was not found. It is my express hope that Frosty the cat is found and reunited with his young soldier owner.
During the time my daughter was in Joplin, for unknown reasons, someone posted a Facebook page of photos of dead animals, attributing them to the ASPCA in Joplin. Why would anyone do such a thing?
Even in disasters, red tape and authorities exist and succeed in keeping people away from what is rightfully theirs. One man who may have been homeless before the tornado, came each day looking for his dog. To anyone who would listen he told how he and his dog had been sucked out of his truck and how he had watched in horror as his little dog ran or was blown down the street out of his sight. He had spent every moment since looking for the dog himself and coming to the ASPCA site daily, hoping someone else had found the dog. Once he spotted the dog amid the carnage but was prevented by law enforcement from entering the area, even after he explained he had recognized his dog from a distance. The last afternoon my daughter was there, the man came through with his dog, joyously sharing his good fortune with everyone.
There were emotional reunions of people and dogs that made all of the hard work worthwhile. Unfortunately, it is difficult to reunite people and their cats in such circumstances if the animals are not micro-chipped or wearing identification tags. Felines are far less demonstrative than dogs and surprisingly, people cannot be as certain in their identification of a cat. If there is any doubt, people are not allowed to take an animal. In the three days my daughter was there, no cats were reunited with owners, but people continued to return each day hoping to find their pets. If possible, owners should microchip their cats to avoid this problem, just in case some disaster should befall them.
I was proud of my daughter for her willingness to give up a three day weekend in service to her fellow man. I was greatly pleased to see the difficult effort at writing that Master Report produced genuine results for her. I was glad to hear first hand from someone I trust that money given to the ASPCA is actually put to the use for which it was intended. I will be a much more enthusiastic supporter of the ASPCA and the Humane Society from now on. The money aids the animals for certain, but it also serves humans as well. A double investment.