JOPLIN — When a tornado devastated Joplin last year, the city's humane society took in more than 1,300 animals as well as a massive influx of volunteers and donations.
A year later, the volunteers and donations have dropped to pre-storm levels but the demand for space continues, The Joplin Globe reported Wednesday.
The society's Animal Adoption and Resource Center is at full capacity, holding between 250 and 350 animals depending on their size. And more space is needed.
"You could have 500 kennels and they would be filled," said Connie Andrews, shelter services manager for the Joplin Humane Society. "The only way to fix that problem is to have a spay and neuter initiative."
Of the more than 1,300 animals the shelter took in after the May 22, 2011, tornado, 745 were adopted and many others were picked up by their owners. And 385 cats and dogs were taken to new homes after an adopt-a-thon in June 2011.
Lysa Buehler, the shelter manager, said some people have returned pets they adopted because they are still struggling financially. Others are in temporary living situations that don't allow pets.
"We have a lot more people who need dog food, and that's one thing that hurts us when donations drop off," she said. "I love being able to say, 'Hey, we can spot you a bag until you get paid,' but we're trying to feed everyone here."
The storm did bring media attention to the shelter, Buehler said, making it possible to form partnerships with groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"The ASPCA just came down to our shelter and did a very low cost spay-neuter clinic, and may come back next year," Buehler said. "They have also encouraged us to apply for a spay-neuter grant as we are getting ready to open our clinic to the public. We are very excited about that."
Tim Rickey, a Joplin native who is the senior director of field investigations and response for the ASPCA, said that for animal welfare groups recovering from a disaster, the "real work starts after groups like the ASPCA leave, and they return to daily operations with a new set of burdens to bear."
But he said the work of uniting pets with people is important.
"We view helping pets as helping people," Rickey said. "You reunite people with their pets and you recognize just how important their pets are.
"My animals are part of my family. Part of it is it makes your family whole again, and that can have a tremendous impact on your ability to recover."