First to Arrive
On May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, cutting a mile-wide swath of destruction that ultimately left 150 dead and destroyed many more homes and livelihoods. ASPCA Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response Tim Rickey is a native of Joplin, and less than a day after the storm touched down, he and his team were on the scene, preparing the ASPCA’s multipronged response to the crisis.
Working closely with the Joplin Humane Society (JHS), the ASPCA immediately began developing a strategy to rescue, care for and shelter a huge number of lost pets. Homeless animals housed at JHS before the storm were transported elsewhere, but more space was needed.
Luckily, next door to JHS were three empty warehouses, and before long we had filled them with cats and dogs recovered from the wreckage of the tornado. American Humane Association, United Animal Nations (now RedRover), the Humane Society of the United States and others arrived on the scene to help us manage this massive rescue effort.
While compassionate community members brought in many of the animals in our temporary Joplin shelter, others arrived via our night-trapping program. ASPCA responders visited the tornado zone from sundown until 5:00 A.M. to rescue animals—sometimes more than 30 a night.
Meanwhile, we also set up a center to accept and distribute donations of pet supplies from PetSmart Charities, other groups and individuals from around the country.
Through our sheltering and distribution efforts, we were able to assist thousands of animals in Joplin. Nearly 1,300 came through the temporary shelter, and hundreds left in the arms of their families.
Still, by the end of June, the ASPCA was helping JHS shelter nearly 600 animals who were left homeless by the tornado. So, after exhausting every effort to reunite families with their pets, the ASPCA joined JHS to host a very special adoption event on June 25 and 26.
To prepare, each dog underwent a SAFER  evaluation by ASPCA Animal Behavior Center Vice President Dr. Pamela Reid and her team. The cats were also evaluated for personality. All pets were microchipped, vaccinated and spayed or neutered, and all received a complimentary collar, leash, personalized ID tag and goodie bag. We worked with JHS to adapt their regular adoption screening process to the event to make sure we thoroughly vetted each adopter, and we gave the pups a bath so they looked their best for the public. Then, we waited to see who would come.
The results of the event were astonishing: In a huge outpouring of support for Joplin, thousands of people showed up, and an unbelievable 739 animals found homes. A total of 390 dogs and 343 cats—and one ferret and five rabbits—found families in what has been called the biggest adoption event in the Midwest. A huge crowd of people from states as diverse as New Mexico and Wisconsin attended the event, and many walked away with bigger families. The event received national media coverage, even garnering a spot on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
To aid in tornado recovery, the ASPCA was pleased to grant JHS $100,000. In addition, we continued to work with JHS on animal placement. On June 30, the ASPCA National Animal Relocation Initiative worked with Cloud Nine Rescue Flights to fly about 60 cats from JHS to Arlington, Washington, to find new forever homes.
None of this work would have been possible without the help of numerous organizations that worked tirelessly during all stages of our Joplin deployment. They include:
Allen County SPCA
American Humane Association
Animal Emergency Clinic (O'Fallon, MO)
Animal Humane Society
Animal Rescue League of Boston
Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire
Animal Welfare Association
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
Animal Welfare Society
Asheville Humane Society
Baltimore County Animal Control
Bay Area DART
Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society
Boulder County Sheriff's Dept
British Columbia SPCA
California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps
CHA Animal Shelter
Champaign County Humane Society
Champaign Valley K9 Search and Rescue Team
Charleston Animal Society
Colorado Animal Welfare League
Colorado Humane Society
Denver Dumb Friends League
Dogs Deserve Better
Eagle Valley Humane Society
Ericson Veterinarian Hospital
Erie County SPCA
Foundation for Protection of Animals
Geauga Humane Society
Greenhill Humane Society
Hampton Animal Hospital
Heartland Humane Society of Missouri
Herndon Animal Medical Center
Houston Area Doberman Rescue
Humane Society Greater Kansas City
Humane Society of Broward County
Humane Society of Atchinson County
Humane Society Of Berks County
Humane Society of Chittenden County
Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region
Humane Society of Vero Beach
Jacksonville Humane Society
Liberty Humane Society
Mid America Bully Breed Rescue
Missouri Emergency Response Service
Naperville Area Humane Society
Nebraska Humane Society
Oregon Humane Society
Plattsmouth Police Department
Quincy Humane Society
Red Bank Veterinary Hospital
Riverside County Animal Services
Santa Clara County Medical Volunteers for Disaster Response
Saranac Technical Rescue Team
Shelby County Medical Marine Corps
Spay and Neuter Kansas City
Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS)
St. Hubert's Giralda
The Humane Society of Fulton County
Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation
United Animal Nations
Utah Medical Reserve Corps
Vet Center of Liberty
Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas
Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force
Washington Animal Rescue League
Washington State Animal Response Team
Western Pennsylvania Humane Society