Five Years Later: The ASPCA Revisits the Joplin Tornado

May 23, 2016

In May 2011, a devastating tornado tore through the town of Joplin, Missouri, and left a path of destruction in its wake. The ASPCA deployed to the area—a town of about 50,000—and provided emergency sheltering and assistance for approximately 1,300 animals displaced during the disaster. We helped reunite nearly 500 animals with their families and found loving homes for 800 more. This past weekend, we were honored to return to Joplin to participate in Joplin Proud, a four-day event commemorating this community and the incredible progress they have made in the five years since the storm.

2011: A crowd of thousands from 24 states came to Joplin to adopt animals displaced during the storm.

In honor of Joplin Proud, the ASPCA and Joplin Humane Society held a “Paws in the Park” free microchip clinic and adoption event at Parr Hill Park this past Saturday, May 21. While there, we met a number of Joplin residents whose lives were impacted by the tornado—many of whom will never forget the ASPCA’s assistance in its wake.

One resident, Murray Fields, recalls the day of the disaster vividly. “I was taking a nap, when suddenly I was awakened by what sounded like electrical transformers exploding,” he says. When the tornado passed, Murray set out to gather his eight dogs. He found three-legged Norton on the floor, covered in debris, as well as Beagles Mitsy and Maxie, and Starkers, an Australian shepherd mix. “I assumed the others had been crushed in the rubble.” 

Murray Fields visited his dogs daily while they were boarded at the ASPCA’s emergency shelter.

The next day, church volunteers dug three of the dogs out from the wreckage—Pinky, a stout, white pit bull; and mixed breeds Plumpkin and Janna. Skunknose, a Shepherd mix, was found days later at an emergency animal shelter being operated by the ASPCA next to the Joplin Humane Society (JHS). “That we all were unscathed is a miracle,” he says.

Janyce Prier was another Joplin resident whose house was destroyed. Her beloved cat Gus also went missing. But 16 days after the tornado, she spotted Gus on a local television broadcast from the ASPCA’s temporary shelter and was able to positively identify him by the mole on his nose.   Today, the 15-year-old feline is “living large, just as healthy and strong as he was five years ago,” says Janyce, who moved to northwest Arkansas a year after the tornado. 

Janyce Prier after reclaiming her cat, Gus, who was lost in the tornado.

The events in Joplin also served as an important reminder for pet parents everywhere. “Fewer than five percent of the animals we rescued after the tornado were micro-chipped,” said Tim Rickey, a Joplin native and Vice President of ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team. “We’ve learned that a microchip can be a pet’s only ticket home if they become lost or disaster strikes again.” At Saturday’s event, the ASPCA and JHS provided nearly 200 free microchips or vouchers for microchips, and helped nearly a dozen animals find new homes.

“The Joplin tornado displayed nature at its most destructive, but also people at their most compassionate,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “Even though our approaches to animal protection and rescue have improved in the past five years, we still draw strong inspiration from the commitment and heroism that brought so many of those lost animals and people together.”

Joplin resident Murray Fields in the wake of the tornado, 2011.