In May 2011, Memphis braced for severe flooding as the Mississippi River reached record highs. Led by the ASPCA’s Kathryn Destreza, who at the time was Southeast Regional Director, our responders headed to Memphis to help the area weather flooding.
“Pets are members of the family, and we realize how stressful it can be to leave your pet behind,” Destreza said at the time. “It has been a challenging period for both people and pets in communities affected by the disaster, and the ASPCA is pleased to be able to help as many animals as possible during this difficult time.”
The ASPCA set up a temporary shelter that ended up housing more than 350 animals, boarded by their families to wait out the storm. By late May, about two weeks after the floods, almost all animals had been returned to their families, and the temporary shelter was able to shut down.
In addition to rescuing and sheltering animals affected by flooding and tornadoes, the ASPCA worked with PetSmart Charities to provide pet care supplies to groups from Illinois to Mississippi, and that effort was centralized in Memphis.
ASPCA Logistics Manager Joel Lopez knew that PetSmart Charities had trailers ready to deliver supplies, but “we had never seen a scenario where there were so many hotspots so spread out geographically. So it was very difficult to determine where we should send the trailers,” he said at the time. Then Lopez and PetSmart Charities Emergency Relief Manager Wanda Merling struck on a great idea: a pet supply distribution center. They seized on it.
The location was crucial, said Lopez, and considering the path of the severe weather and the location of our responders, “Memphis just made sense.” In the last days of April, the ASPCA gained access to three side-by-side warehouses of 7,500 square feet each and two huge tractor-trailer loading docks in the back. Almost immediately, the facility was filled to the brim with supplies—carriers, pet food, large fans, litter boxes and more. Then, the requests for help started pouring in.
After two weeks, the distribution center had received 23 trucks of supplies—each enough to help care for hundreds of animals—and had filled to capacity and emptied out four times. Working with a local moving company, we delivered and unloaded supplies for communities that could not pick them up.
“We were literally getting orders in the morning, and they were arriving at their destinations that afternoon,” said Lopez.
All told, the ground-breaking distribution initiative helped about 6,600 animals in 35 communities in nine states.
One recipient of these supplies was the Humane Society of West Alabama (HSWA), an all-volunteer shelter in Tuscaloosa, which both used the supplies and distributed them to others in the area.
Jimmie Perry of HSWA told the ASPCA that the deliveries she received had a big impact on her community. “It’s just been unbelievable. And so heartwarming that people care,” Perry said. “It’s meant so much to us that people in other states have brought us things—and we’re doing our best to get those things to where they’re needed.”