May 21, 2012
ASPCA Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Tim Rickey was a few hours from Joplin, Missouri, when he learned that one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history had just touched down in his hometown, taking lives and destroying homes of people he’d known all his life.
As a veteran animal rescue professional, Rickey was acutely aware that in addition to the human devastation, thousands of companion animals were likely lost and injured. Rickey also knew that he was the person best equipped to help them. So in the early morning hours of May 23, 2011, he fired up his truck and drove to the disaster area.
He also immediately alerted his team, who dropped everything to deploy to Joplin and begin rescuing animal victims.
Right away, Rickey began working closely with the Joplin Humane Society (JHS) to set up an emergency plan for rescuing and sheltering Joplin’s animals. Fortunately, three abandoned warehouses were available next to JHS—so a small army of responders built temporary shelters within them. The team began taking in cats, dogs, and even chickens and exotic pets.
That was just the beginning.
Before long, there were hundreds of beloved family pets—tiny orange kittens, fat calico cats, German Shepherds, Papillons and more—in need of our care. So, orchestrating a massive operation that included several other major animal welfare organizations, the ASPCA rapidly assembled a team of hundreds to provide round-the-clock care for these lost pets.
The ASPCA also assembled a night-trapping team that worked dusk-to-dawn to locate missing cats, rescuing numerous felines before clean-up crews came to raze destroyed homes.
Through this unprecedented effort, we learned many lessons about disaster animal sheltering, and we’re actively using them in our responses today: Joplin enabled our team to hone strategies for providing animals with enrichment, socialization and ongoing medical attention, and we have since expanded the FIR Team to include a medical director and a disaster specialist.
Joplin “forced us to raise the level of professionalism in emergency sheltering even higher,” Rickey says.
We’re using our knowledge to make animals safer nationwide. Since Joplin, Rickey has become a go-to expert on emergency sheltering, helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ensure that more American communities have disaster plans in place that protect animals.
But of course, our sheltering work was just the beginning of our Joplin operation. As we continued to find and rescue animals, we were also working tirelessly to reunite them with their families. We’ll show you pictures and more of these reunion stories in next week’s News Alert. Stay tuned!