After the disaster: Notes from Joplin

Wayside Volunteer Scott and his dog Denly

Wayside Volunteer Scott and his dog Denly

It’s hard to know where to start when you’ve seen something that defies emotion or words.

Joplin is that kind of place. 

After spending time at the makeshift animal shelter, a place where hundreds of animals have ended up in the wake of that terrible tragedy, you understand much more deeply the transformational power of our pets. 

People stood at the ready, taking in strays by the dozens, many found in parts of the city left in shambles by the storm. Other animals were brought in by desperate owners who had nothing left. They needed a place they could trust to care for their pets while they try to get back on their feet. 

With each new arrival, volunteers and staff from many organizations, including Wayside Waifs,  jumped into action. Dogs and cats were checked in, paperwork was filled out, computer records started and medical care administered. Sometimes, grieving family members were comforted with a hug or a pat on the back. 

Reunions were tearful and joyous for everyone. People with nothing came to the shelter looking for their pets — their friends — and many were lucky enough to find them. 

One lady found her lab mix puppy minutes after a good Samaritan brought him to the shelter. Like many of the animals who came in, he was frightened and in a state of shock. When the two saw each other it was if everything that had happened just melted away. His tail jumped into action for the first time, and her tears of joy overwhelmed everyone nearby. 

When one woman was helped to her SUV after finding her cat, you couldn’t help but stare at how badly damaged her vehicle was. Most of the glass was missing and the back was covered in a big orange X — a sign that the SUV had been checked for victims by rescue workers shortly after the tornado. 

As she hugged her cat, she apologized and asked if there was any food she could have for him. “I lost everything,” she whispered. “I don’t even have any money.” 

Luckily, there was plenty of pet food and other supplies available. Manufacturers of all kinds sent truckloads of products and many sent volunteers and staff to help with the effort. 

The human tragedy of Joplin is immeasurable. But the animal tragedy is difficult to fathom too. The good news is that people who have lost everything are comforted to know they have a place to leave pets while they figure out their next steps. Owners reunited with dogs and cats have someone to provide them with unconditional love during such a trying time. 

As one lady said after finding her little Shih Tzu in the rubble of her home six days after the storm tore through Joplin, “I’m just happy to have her back.” 

Today I will hug my dogs a dozen times more than I usually do. I will be thankful that we have each other and that our lives have not been turned upside down by a natural disaster. I will also be thankful for organizations like Wayside Waifs for wasting no time getting to the work of rescuing pets and giving them homes and medical care when they need it most. And I will be thankful for the small miracles I witnessed while in Joplin…the smiles and tears of joy when friends are reunited after such a indescribable time.

Written by Scott Cotter
Wayside Waifs Volunteer


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