By Darla Shelden
Many Oklahomans and their pets have endured much suffering since the devastating tornados ravaged their way through Shawnee, Carney, Little Axe, Bethel Acres and Moore, Oklahoma.
26 lives were lost, over 400 have been injured, hundreds of homes destroyed and countless animals have been separated from their families.
“Right now there are animal control officers from multiple municipalities that are in the City of Moore doing searches and bringing animals in, “ said Eric McCune, Bella Foundation Executive Director. “The animals come to the Home Depot at 650 SW 19th Street in Moore to a USDA triage, where there are veterinarians and staff on hand.”
“The animals are scanned for microchips, searched for I.D. tags, photographed, and catalogued,” said McCune.
The animals are then transported to either The ARC (Animal Resource Center) on S. I-35, to the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman, or to the Oklahoma City shelter says McCune.
A clearinghouse with photos of lost and found animals has been established at www.okclostpets.com and on the coalitions’ Facebook page.
“The reason animals are being separated from their owners is because many people were at work,” said Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel. “When the tornado hit, the house was leveled and the animals that survived dug out on their own.”
“They’ve gone through a very traumatic experience just like anyone,” Whetsel said.
“People aren’t allowed back into their homes for several hours, or maybe a day later because they’re trying to make sure people are rescued from out of the debris,” said Whetsel.
Sheriff Whetsel feels strongly about one action owners can take to protect their pet.
“I don’t care if the dog never leaves the inside of the home, or the inside of the yard – put a tag on your dog. If they are wandering, the rescuers will know who they are and who to contact.”
Microchipping your pet can also be used to aid the recovery process.
“The fact is that our three dogs are as much a part of our family as anyone else,” said Whetsel. “They’re around us all the time, they are part of our family.”
On Monday, the day the tornado hit, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted a photo of a little black dog sitting in rubble.
On Tuesday, the OCSO posted the photo on Facebook with the comment, “The dog was standing guard over a deceased individual, possibly it’s owner. The dog was taken to a shelter and the deputy who found the pup, if possible, plans on adopting the dog.”
Shortly after, Sheila Collins replied, “Please don’t adopt Susie Collins. She is my brother Curtis’ dog and he is alive and the only reason he is not well is that he is looking for Susie.”
Whetsel said, “Our PIO officer contacted that person and we were able to locate the owner and he has now been reunited with his dog.”
Susie’s photo has received over 60,000 likes and been shared nearly 20,000 times.
Peggy Johnson, of Oklahoma City, owner of 5 dogs and 2 cats, felt drawn to do something to help.
Having worked as a volunteer with the Bella Foundation she gave them a call. She was asked to come to the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, where several rescue organizations, including Bella, were set up to receive animals from the Moore tornado site.
“Animals were trickling in and people were coming and getting them,” said Johnson. “A woman and her daughter had come looking for their dog, a blonde, Corgy mix. They were just about to leave and they went back and looked one last time and there he was.”
Johnson witnessed another two woman being reunited with their Labrador/mix. “That dog was really old,” said Johnson. “The experience was really emotional.”
Determined to help, Johnson stuck close to Traci Gehue-Neasbitt, Bella Foundation Adoption Coordinator.
Their next stop was the Home Depot Triage, which was buzzing with activity. A woman had just arrived clinging tightly to a large white Pekingese cat.
“She had just found her cat in the rubble and had brought it to Home Depot to get it checked out. All of these reunions were really emotional,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s group then had the opportunity to ride with John Fryrear of the Moore Animal Control Division to search for animals in the debris area.
“I saw a Jack Russell sitting on the pile of rubble that used to be his home,” said Johnson. “He was waiting for his family.”
“We stopped and he got up and he was either weak or maybe injured a little, but he started to walk on the other side of the rubble. We looked up and saw a girl and two people probably in their 20’s walking towards us.”
“When they saw the dog the little girl said, “Jack” and he started wagging his tail. He slowly started walking to them and they slowly started walking towards him. The little girl gently picked up her dog. It was so tender.”
“Having already found their two other dogs, they had come back to look for Jack,” Johnson said.
The search was successful in rounding up two dogs, with an attempt to catch an elusive pit bull, a cat, and another large dog that got away.
“I feel so fortunate to have been able to lend a hand in the recovery effort,” said Johnson. “It was just overwhelming. I have such great respect for the first responders and everyone that’s out there. And also everybody who’s just showing up and trying to do something.’
Christy Counts, Oklahoma Humane Society President said, “Each reunion brings tears to our eyes and makes all of our work so very worthwhile.”
“The fact that we can bring joy to these families that have lost everything is very rewarding,” said Counts. “We are happy that we can offer this comfort to these animals and people in such a tragic time.”
As of Thursday, there had been between 300 to 350 animals pulled from the debris field, and of those McCune said about 100 – 125 have been recovered by their owners.
“We’re telling everyone to look at the Moore Shelter, The ARC, and the Cleveland County Fairgrounds,” said McCune. If your dog isn’t there, then leave a description and contact information.”
Volunteers are cross-referencing descriptions with the animals that are there.
“We’re doing our best to get these little guys home,” McCune said.
Facebook has played an immeasurable role in aiding rescuers, first responders and even victims of the tornadoes that hit Oklahoma.
“Facebook has been incredible,” said McCune. “The first night at the Animal Resource Center, ARC Board member Barbara Lewis said, ‘we are opening the facility not only to animals, but to people and to people with animals that need a place to stay.’ I posted that on our Facebook page and as of today, over 122,000 people have seen that post.
“It’s like having a conversation with the world all at one time,” McCune added.
An estimated 75 to 100 horses perished when Monday’s tornado barreled through the Orr Family Farm located on S. Western.
Donations can be made at www.thebellafoundation.org or www.okclostpets.com.
To look for a lost pet contact the following shelters:
The ARC (Animal Resource Center)
7949 S. I-35 Service Rd.
City of Moore Animal Shelter
3900 S. I-35
Oklahoma City, OK 730129
Cleveland County Fairgrounds
615 E. Robinson
Norman, OK 73071
OK Humane Society Quarantine Facility
2901 SE 29th St., OKC, OK 73115
Shawnee Animal Shelter
1900 W Independence
Shawnee, OK 74801
Emmanuel Baptist Church – Triage
Corner of 149th & Fishmarket Rd.
Bethel Acres, OK 74851
Carney First Baptist Church Command Center
207 N Carney St, Carney, OK 74832
Little Axe Resource Center
1970 156th Ave NE 73026
Oklahoma tornados ravage lives and separate families from pets
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