JOPLIN — A slip of paper with the number 86 on it ended up being Dan Gardner and Brittany Mullin's ticket to a brown and gray Chihuahua on Saturday.
Gardner and Mullin, both residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, drove the eight hours over the weekend of Gardner's 24th birthday to the Joplin Humane Society's Adopt-a-thon. They named their new dog Oliver.
“We were gonna adopt it back in Cedar Rapids but, this just seemed like a better thing to do,” Gardner said. “I’ve never seen anything this big for something like this.”
Although adoptions did not begin until about 10 a.m., people came several hours early, and as the starting time drew nearer, a ticket line of more than a hundred people had already formed with cars continuing to stream in.
By 4:30 p.m. Sunday, about 15 animals had yet to be adopted with more than 100 potential adopters still present, said Tim Rickey, senior director of Field Investigations & Response with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Rickey said more than 600 animals were adopted over the weekend, including 125 dogs and 100 cats adopted by 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s looking pretty good for the dogs and cats today,” Rickey said.
Joyce Helloms and her daughter, Martha Owens, both of Duncan, Okla., drove five hours for the event. They arrived at about 8 a.m. Saturday and were numbers 105 and 106 in line for dog adoption.
“I hate to see an animal without a family,” Helloms said. “They’re so lost. And to have to go through that, they’ve got to be traumatized.”
Helloms adopted a corgi she named Baxter, and Owens adopted an 8-week-old chihuahua-terrier mix. Sunday afternoon, Owens was still waiting to choose a name.
Kari Wilkes and her family came early to the event for a different reason.
Wilkes, her husband, Carl, and her stepchildren, Bailee, 13, and Carl Jr., 9, all of Duquesne, arrived at 8 a.m. to hand out flyers in search of Hanah, their 100-pound American bulldog who went missing during the tornado.
“We’re living in Oklahoma because our house was destroyed,” Wilkes said. “There wasn’t anything left of it.”
Wilkes was taking cover in a closet with Hanah and another dog during the May 22 storm.
“When the house was just disintegrating, the roof came off it, the door flew open … and it sucked her out.” Wilkes said of Hanah.
“I was holding on to her but it just sucked her right out. She was gone. I couldn’t find her.”
Soon after the storm, Wilkes went about searching for the dog.
Hanah hasn't been seen since a truck driver spotted her and took a picture of her about a mile from Wilkes' home on May 24, Wilkes said. The driver contacted Wilkes on May 28 after seeing a picture of her on the Internet.
“We haven’t been able to find her since,” she said. “She’s been spotted, she’s alive. I know she’s alive … She’s out there somewhere.”
She said Hanah is 5 years old and has all white fur and a black nose. Hanah’s right eye is blue and her left eye is hazel.
“I know it sounds crazy, but she’s got 11 nipples,” Wilkes said. “The kids would always make fun of her, you know… It’s the craziest thing but she’s very distinctive. That’s how you know her.”
Wilkes said the family has handed out or posted more than 5,000 flyers in the last month. They also have a Facebook page set up called Bring Hanah Home.
Anita Kelso Edson, senior director of Media & Communications with the ASPCA, said 2,500 people came through the gate on Saturday.
Rickey said the number was more than 1,000 on Sunday.
Based on her conversations with people in the crowd, Kelso Edson said a lot of potential adopters came from Columbia. She said people came from 24 states, with the majority of them from the four-state area of Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.
“This has been an amazing response,” Rickey said. “I don’t even know that I have words to really describe how I feel.”
Rickey said the state of Missouri was also well represented among the adopters.
Of the workers at the event, Rickey said, “Pick a state. They’re from everywhere.”
Rickey said 100 to 150 people, at least half of whom are paid, have worked daily for nearly a month to care for the tornado animals.
Many of the staff come from humane societies and societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, Rickey said.
The ASPCA has spent well over $1 million on the undertaking, he said.
“It’s been a mega operation,” he said. “And it’s been an expensive operation. The ASPCA has provided the financial support for this operation from day one."
Kelso Edson said 89 other animal welfare organizations around the country offered volunteers.
“The 89 does not include the Joplin Humane Society volunteers,” she said. “They had people coming out every day.”
Rickey said the Joplin Humane Society’s funding was affected by the storm, and a portion of the ASPCA's funding included a grant to help the humane society maintain daily operations.
“A big part of their donor base was impacted by this,” Rickey said. “The donations that they normally get were just not coming in because the biggest concentration of their local donor base was right in the impacted area … They’ve spent money on this as well. There’s a lot of overtime, additional supplies, things like that.”