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What It's Really Been Like Helping Pets Displaced by the Oklahoma Tornadoes

"When I started, it was like a madhouse. Things have quieted down, and it's quite sad," says a worker at an interim shelter on the fairgrounds.

 |  Jun 19th 2013  |   8 Contributions


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Two years ago, a natural disaster altered my life and that of my dog’s so deeply that I was forced to flee from my home because of the devastating and tragic flood waters of the Susquehanna River. When my friend, June Myers, told me that the recent Oklahoma tornadoes touched down a half mile from her home, I was stunned.

I immediately thought of all the devastation caused by Mother Nature and the poor animals left in the aftermath. Moore, Oklahoma, is no different than any other town affected by horrible weather conditions. Numerous animals wait in makeshift shelters hoping to reunite with their families. Some people lost everything and may have no way to reconnect with their displaced dog or cat.

Until now.

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June Myers doesn't consider herself a hero, but she gives freely of herself to help animals in need in Oklahoma. Here, she snuggles with her blind Cocker Spaniel, Buster.

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A dog dreams of being reunited with his family in Oklahoma.

Myers is a self-admitted dog lover, much like yours truly. She is a fellow Cocker Spaniel lover and dog mom who has volunteered her time at a fairgrounds. She isn't making cotton candy or handing out candy apples -- quite the contrary, in fact. She's volunteering at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds Animal Shelter, which is a makeshift shelter for all the displaced, homeless, abandoned, lost, and injured pets affected by nature's fury in Oklahoma.

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Upon entering the makeshift shelter, this warehouse has been transformed as a temporary shelter for dozens of dogs and cats.

"When I started volunteering, it was like a madhouse here," Myers says. "People were coming in and claiming their dogs like crazy. Now, things have really quieted down, and it's quite sad."

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Hoping, waiting, and wondering if the next person he sees will be his dog mom or dad.

Lost souls are brought to the facility by other shelters, good Samaritans, and disaster recovery groups. Of the more than 200 animals who have been delivered to this location, about 85 remain. Some other pets take refuge at the Animal Resource Center in Oklahoma City, with others at the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter, Moore Animal Shelter, and the Oklahoma State University vet school.

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This is but one wall of photos for folks to examine upon entering the makeshift shelter. They hope to see their dog or cat on the wall.

The devastation isn't covered as much on TV, but those dogs, cats, and other pets still need someone to help. Money solves a lot of problems; it can help feed and keep healthy these pets until (and if) they can be reunited with their loved ones. The Moore Oklahoma Tornado Animal Relief Fund helps these wandering souls and the volunteers who care for them.

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From the outside, it looks like a warehouse. On the inside, this is home to dozens of homeless tornado dogs and cats.

A day in the life of a pet relief worker

Myers checks in at 8 a.m. The pets are fed, watered, and walked by volunteers. While the dogs are outside, indoor volunteers sanitize their kennels with a germicide. Pets are talked to and given plenty of attention. Each volunteer has a specific task they do, and Myers works on the intakes.

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A volunteer takes a morning walk with one of the shelter residents.

She was on vacation the day the tornado hit, so she missed the first week. Volunteers report injured animals came in scared to death, some injured, and others just baffled and confused. All injured pets received immediate medical care, with some transferred to Oklahoma State University Vet School for further attention.

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This hospital was severely ravaged by tornadoes ripping through its core.

As a volunteer, Myers says the pets have adjusted really well. The veterinarians give rabies and Bordatella shots to the incoming dogs and cats as well as microchipping them. Cats also get their feline rhinotracheitis shots.

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Donations of food and supplies have been donated by a variety of companies to help care for the dogs and cats affected by the tornadoes.

From noon to 2:30 p.m., the shelter goes into “quiet time” mode, where all dogs settle in for naps and the volunteers eat lunch.

“This shelter differed from others because it was on a scale 10 times the size,” Myers shares. “Someone is always sweeping or mopping and in the evening, it starts all over again: feeding, watering, walking, cleaning.”

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Blue Heeler Female brought in on May 22, spayed, about 5 years old, waits for her owner.

Of concern are people who want to claim a pet as their own without proof of ownership, which must be demonstrated before any pet is released.

They sit and they wait: the workers as well as the pets in transit. They wait for their loved ones, for the moment they will be reunited, and when they do, it is so worth it.

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This sweetheart still waits for his owner to find him.

One family came in looking for their six Dachshunds, which thankfully are at the shelter. Though they have room for the two older ones where they are renting, they continue to seek housing so all six can be reunited. "To see a dog who spots his owner suddenly light up, crying and wagging, waiting to get close to their guardian and be reunited is the best feeling," Myers says.

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The female heeler was reunited with her dog mom this week, as smiles and tears of joy flowed.

One particular dog, Lacy, was reunited with her family last week. She was being examined in the vet area when her owner made eye contact. "Lacy was so happy to see her. She had given Lacy up for dead until someone told them they saw her pic on one of the websites," Myers shares.

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A volunteer veterinarian examines one of the dogs being housed at the temporary shelter.

Aside from the chores and bonding time with the animals, Myers and many of the volunteers spend their days in a state of hope: Hope that a pet will be reclaimed by his or her family. Some folks have no place to live, others assume their pets died, and some people might have perished in the tornado.

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A volunteer from spends time playing with and petting one of the displaced dogs.

There are a number of families who have claimed their pets but have no place to take them. In these situations, the kennels are marked “Owner Claimed.”

“One family had four dogs in our shelter,” Myers recalls. “Unable to take them all home at first, they let us know they were looking for shelter and returned to claim their babies once housing was found.”

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Lost, with nowhere to go, this volunteer brings a dog to the shelter in Moore, Oklahoma.

What happens now?

The question that runs through my mind is: What happens when the time comes and the fairgrounds must be used for other purposes, and the makeshift shelter closes its doors? What becomes of the dogs and cats who remain?

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Despite her tags and numerous attempts to reach her owners, no calls were returned and the cat was turned over to a rescue group.

In fact, this temporary shelter will close and the spaying and neutering of remaining pets will take place. Any animals who remain will be put up for adoption at a big event planned for June 23. Thankfully, unadopted pets will go to a rescue or shelter, dubbed "tornado pets," where they will not be euthanized. Whew.

But those lost souls still need homes.

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Mother Nature's fury destroyed this gas station in Moore, Oklahoma.

How to help

The Moore Animal Shelter needs donations; you can help at the Red Rover site set up by the city of Moore. In the meantime, Dogster readers are encouraged to visit Oklahoma Lost PetsLost Pets of of Moore Oklahoma, and the Animal Resource Center.

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Baxter was recently reunited with his dad.

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Kimberly Freeman, from New York City, a dog trainer in working with two Chihuahuas. The little male was scared and the little female was not; she was spending her time with the little male.

Why Myers does it

"First of all, I love animals," Myers says. "Secondly I am a volunteer at the Moore Animal Shelter, and our group is Moore Pawsabilities."

Yes, she is emotionally drained, as the photos here represent, but Myers and the other volunteers know they are needed. "I am only doing a very small part; there are so many, many more great people and organizations that that have pitched in and are helping with this effort," she says.

She reflects on Baxter and the way the little dog jumped up and down in his kennel when his eyes locked on his very grateful owner at the makeshift shelter. Tornadoes cannot eliminate the bond between dog and family. I don't know about you, but I'm off to hug my dog a little bit closer right now.

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Local children draw pictures to brighten the atmosphere at the makeshift shelter in Oklahoma.

Has Mother Nature has ever wreaked havoc in your life and affected your pets? Let me know in the comments.

Read more on the tornadoes: 

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