Today our thoughts are with the residents of Midwestern and Southern states who have suffered unimaginable destruction from this week's tornadoes, so close on the heels of historic flooding along the Mississippi River and tornadoes that swept through Alabama earlier this month. We've learned of so many tragic outcomes for people and animals, and we are grieving for the afflicted and mobilizing to assist where and when we can.
The Humane Society of the United States' experienced team of rescuers is always ready to deploy to help animals affected by natural and man-made disasters. Earlier this month, we helped lost pets in tornado-stricken Tuscaloosa, Ala., cared for hundreds of animals at an emergency shelter in Kennett, Mo., and braved high waters to rescue cats stranded atop flooded homes in Tunica, Miss. (watch a video of the rescue.)
This week, our Animal Rescue Team continues to care for pets at an emergency shelter in Natchez, Miss., and we have responders in Joplin, Mo., to assist with animal sheltering needs there. On Friday, we'll be transporting more than 80 dogs in one of our specially equipped emergency vehicles from Mississippi to the Washington, D.C. area for adoption.
Amid all of the bad news associated with this overwhelming tragedy, I want to share a few of the uplifting stories sent in by our rescuers in the field. At the emergency shelter in Mississippi, HSUS staff and volunteers have been bottle-feeding kittens, bathing puppies to keep them cool, and welcoming residents who come to visit their pets at the shelter. Our field responder Tara Loller sent this report from Natchez:
"People and animals face so many uncertainties when they are experiencing a disaster. It is crucial that others who can help, do help. This is where the Animal Rescue Team, both HSUS employees and our amazing volunteers, step in. We were asked into these communities that truly needed us and we immediately felt so appreciated.
"Our emergency shelter has brought peace of mind to families who come in with stories of their pets, what their pet likes, and usually a little funny story. We listen. We hug them as they entrust their beloved family member to us. When they visit, we sit with them to discuss their situation and tell them about their pet's latest belly rub or new toy. We receive praise and repeated thank-yous, yet all we are doing is what we know best: helping animals in need.
"It is a team effort from morning to night, and we all count on each other. Varied backgrounds, ages, and experiences all unite to form one outstanding team. The best reward for the HSUS Animal Rescue Team will always be in the form of purrs, puppy kisses, and tail wags."
While some of these pets have been reunited with their families, others were stray animals or were turned over to the shelter because people are no longer able to care for them. Another HSUS staffer, Jennifer Clegg, wrote about a few of the dogs who will be starting a new chapter in their lives when we transport them to the East Coast later this week:
"One such dog is a sweet shepherd mix named Isis. When her owner stopped by to check out our temporary shelter, it was obvious that she loved Isis and was very concerned about her well-being during her stay. We reassured her that we would take care of Isis like she was one of our own beloved dogs. When she came back to drop Isis off, she admitted that she was overwhelmed with caring for the dog, as she was also caring for her ill husband, and she had taken in Isis after a friend had given her up.
"The woman called the temporary shelter several times to check on Isis, and after hearing that The HSUS was planning to transport several of the area's homeless animals to less crowded shelters up north, she decided it was in the dog's best interest to surrender her with the hope that she would find a new family who could give her all the love and attention she truly needed. When she came to say goodbye, it was a heartfelt moment that brought tears to the eyes of the shelter staff.
"Two other temporary shelter residents that will be finding new homes up north are the lovable characters that the staff has named Bologna and Cheese. These homeless beagle mixes were found running along the Mississippi riverbank, and the local sheriff's department picked them up and brought to our emergency shelter. Their sweet personalities will make great additions to any family looking for a new companion."
We're grateful to all the volunteers and other animal protection groups who are working with us in these efforts, and to local authorities who've recognized that during difficult times like these, helping pets also helps people and the community as a whole. Our hearts go out to all of the victims -- human and animal.
This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.
Follow Wayne Pacelle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waynepacelle