On May 22, 2011, one of the worst tornadoes in US history hit Joplin, Mo., killing 161 people and destroying nearly a third of the city.
It was a devastating time. Yet, amidst the grief and widespread destruction, the city of Joplin has shown a resilience and hope that has been astounding.
On the first anniversary of the tornado, the city will come together in a "walk of unity" as they remember the steadfast togetherness that has kept them strong and the heroes that helped saved lives.
But Joplin's heroes come in many sizes: male and female, young and old, on two legs and on four.
Here, we celebrate the animal heroes of the Joplin tornado -- pets who have worked tirelessly to save survivors or to retrieve victims, as well as animals who've bravely endured the challenges of the disaster, offering hope to a city in recovery.
Hailed a hero for her tireless search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, Lily spent two straight weeks combing through the rubble for survivors even though she was unwell. According to the Joplin Globe, the dog developed a life-threatening immune deficiency just weeks before the tornado hit. During the search, she was still on medication. Yet, her owner Tara Prosser told OzarksFirst.com that the brave dog would not slow down her rescue effort. "She's worked without complaint. She got nails in her feet. She get cuts on her legs. I only heard her yelp one time," Prosser said. In recognition for her selfless determination, Lily was recently nominated for the American Humane Association's hero dog award. For more information, visit Lily's Facebook page.
In 2008, Joplin residents saved Molly Brown's life when they helped raise about $2,500 to have a pacemaker installed. The chocolate Labrador had been diagnosed with a heart blockage, Weather.com reports. Three years later, the "unsinkable" Molly Brown returned the favor as she spent many long hours searching for victims after the deadly EF-5 tornado ravaged Joplin. With owner Alicia Brown by her side, Molly helped search crews recover 12 bodies. Alicia also took Molly to visit local children, the Columbia Tribune reports.
A search crew in Joplin were looking for survivors trapped in the rubble when a rescue dog named Javier smelled another dog. Sniffing at the debris, Javier alerted rescuers to the trapped dog, ABC News reports. Javier's trainer said the rescue proved that one should never give up.
For 16 days, Lavern, a 13-year-old cat, was buried beneath the rubble of her family's destroyed Joplin home. Her owner, Terrla Cruse -- who had barely the escaped the tornado with her husband and two young children -- had assumed that the cat had died in the devastation. Returning to the site of her former home to look for some paperwork with her sister, Terrla told the Joplin Globe that they suddenly heard meowing coming from beneath the debris. The two sisters began to dig. To their amazement, Lavern's head soon emerged. Terrla's sister was quick to take a photo of the miraculous reunion. The Joplin Globe reports that the brave cat was dehydrated but doing well. "It was total shock and excitement," Cruse said, adding that her cat had likely "used up all nine of her lives." Lavern is one of the hundreds of courageous pets who survived the disaster and who fearlessly persevered through countless challenges and limitations in the aftermath of the tornado. In a similar story, a Joplin woman was reunited with her dog when the brave canine was found fighting for its life, buried in the rubble of her destroyed home.