Humane Society of Missouri helps rescues animals in disasters

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | 6:45 p.m. CDT; updated 11:14 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Ice storms, tornadoes and floods have made it a rough year for many people in Missouri. Their pets have had a hard time of it, too.

The Humane Society of Missouri said Tuesday that it has helped more than 3,000 animals survive severe weather so far this year. Most of those were animals from Missouri, although the group helped about 300 animals in Iowa during recent flooding.

While the Humane Society of Missouri rescued more than 2,000 animals elsewhere after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the organization believes it has set a new record for natural disaster animal rescues by the group in Missouri.

The Humane Society’s disaster response team used 4-wheel-drive trucks to bring fresh water to livestock during ice storms in January and February. When flooding struck eastern Missouri in March, the team rescued animals from trees, including several rabbits who had floated up into them and taken refuge. And during spring tornadoes, team members tended to injured animals, including a llama with a broken jaw.

Now, the Humane Society is hoping it’s at the tail end of efforts to help in Iowa and northeast Missouri after the recent flooding along the Mississippi River.

“We were pulling cats out of trees and off rooftops, dogs that were swimming in the water,” said Tim Rickey, director of rescue and investigation for the Humane Society of Missouri.

“We’ve gone from disaster to disaster,” he said.

Rickey said the organization has a nine-member team that uses three boats to rescue animals in flood situations. The size of the rescue team varies from disaster to disaster, from about six to 20 members.

Team members work with local authorities and take tips from local residents or animal owners. Although they may have to make some difficult rescues, Rickey said that much of their work doesn’t look particularly dramatic.

In an emergency, shelters for humans often can’t take in animals, so the Humane Society tries to establish shelters for pets, such as a mobile home specially designed for the purpose.

The Humane Society also has distributed thousands of pounds of cat and dog food this year to pet owners lacking provisions after a disaster.

“Thank God for Purina,” Rickey said, noting that Nestle Purina PetCare, which has its North American headquarters in St. Louis, provides massive pet food donations.

When responding after tornadoes, such as those that hit Newton County in the spring, the Humane Society helped injured animals, such as a dog with a broken leg or a donkey hit by a fallen tree, by getting them to veterinary care.

Rickey said the group reunites animals with owners. If an owner wants to give up a pet, he said, the group will put an animal up for adoption once it is spayed or neutered and healthy.

Carmen Skelly, who has been a team member responding to the disasters, said the animals are often frightened or disoriented. She said team members have devices that help them make sure there are no live wires during water rescues and humane traps and nets to help them bring animals to safety.

But a calm voice and a gently outstretched arm can do the trick as well.

She recently rescued a rooster from floodwaters in northeast Missouri, just after encountering two snakes that had holed up in the same spot.

“I think a lot of times citizens think that animals will be OK and survive,” she said. But, she noted, many domestic animals do not fare well on their own, particularly in a natural disaster. “They rely on us to meet their basic needs.”

The Humane Society of Missouri has spent more than $250,000 helping animals in its natural disaster response so far this year, said spokeswoman Jeane Jae.

She said about 30 cats and 32 dogs assisted during the natural disasters will be available for adoption in upcoming weeks, either at Humane Society headquarters in St. Louis or a west St. Louis County location.

The dogs include beagles, Shih Tzus, rat terriers and a number of mixed breeds. “We even have one pug,” she said.

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