In the days and weeks following the May 20 tornado, an estimated 850 pets were lost and shuffled between individuals’ homes, triage clinics and shelters. Most of them were eventually reunited with their owners, but eight months later, nearly a third have been adopted by new families, since their original owners were never able to be found.
Robin Lindsey, a pet owner, is a high school counselor at the Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City. She lived in Moore at the time of the tornado, but was at the hospital with her ailing father the day the storm destroyed her home. When she returned to her neighborhood, Lindsey searched tirelessly for her two dogs, Porkchop and Precious.
“I went all around and called and everything, but it was totally quiet,” Lindsey said. “There was no sound at all.”
Lindsey found Precious the following day amid the rubble that was previously her home, but Porkchop was still missing.
Then, a few days later, a family friend saw a picture of the 8-pound Shih Tzu on the Facebook page of the Animal Resource Center, an Oklahoma City pet training facility. Lindsey was ecstatic.
“We were looking at the picture they had emailed us to make sure it was her. I was running through the house and jumping up and down and squealing,” she said.
Lindsey realizes how lucky she was. And Animal Resource Center Board President Barbara Lewis agrees. She says many owners had a more difficult time finding their dogs and cats.
“A lot of people took animals they found to their local veterinarians, so they were being boarded at a dozen different veterinarians around the area,” Lewis said. “So that's why a lot of the animals actually were not found is because they were not put into the system,” she said.
Amy Schrodes at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society says it took time to get everything organized, which prevented people from knowing where to go.
“It was kind of, in the beginning, a wild goose chase until we could get all the shelters structured and then we were able to put the message out to the general public: If you find an animal in Moore, this is where you take it,” Schrodes said.
In the meantime, Barbara Lewis with the Animal Resource Center says many people who were confused about what to do ended up on her doorstep.
“They didn't know where to go because the Moore Animal Shelter is very small so there really wasn't any place for them to go, and so they came here because we are a big facility and we have a lot of room,” Lewis said.
The Resource Center was one of the three main shelters, but it only has one paid staff member, and it’s mostly just a site for training classes and dog shows, so Lewis says it was ill-prepared for the task.
“We are not set up to house animals,” Lewis said. “We don't have equipment or anything to take care of animals here.”
Luckily, she says more than 1,100 volunteers showed up following the tornado to help feed animals, clean cages and walk dogs. Many were also in charge of updating the so-called “Reunion Boards,” which contained pictures of the animals so people could check and see if their pets were at a specific shelter.
The Humane Society’s Amy Schrodes hopes shelters can implement this tool more quickly in the future.
“It just makes it a lot easier for the public when they're looking for their animals if they don't have to run to 5 or 6 different places in town, if we can funnel them to one or two main shelters, that’s going to help facilitate reunions,” Schrodes said.
Animal welfare groups involved with the tornado response hope to establish a centralized database in the future to improve the tracking of displaced animals.
Schrodes says they also hope to foster more cooperation between local, state and national agencies to make the process easier the next time a storm comes.