When disaster strikes, often people's first thought aside from their own safety is that of their pets, said Hamilton County Disaster Animal Response Team coordinator Renita "Shorty" Beaty.
Following the tornadoes that ripped through the Chattanooga area Easter Sunday night, Hamilton County Emergency Management deployed the county's response team for door-to-door grid searches for animals left behind, and McKamey Animal Center officials partnered in those efforts to search the 17 grids across the 9-mile area of the county hit hardest by the storm.
McKamey brought in a veterinary medical team to do minor triage, taking care of pets with minor injuries, such as lacerations from flying debris, on-site and taking animals with more serious issues back to the center. A few required surgery, including one dog whose toenails were ripped off as it was pulled through the roof of a home, said Executive Director Jamie McAloon.
Along with dogs and cats, larger animals in more rural areas hit by the storm were also affected.
Beaty said she and her three teams assisted residents with cattle hit by falling trees. They also helped find places to board animals living in a barn that was completely destroyed.
She said her job often involves connecting people with the resources they need, such as finding someone to help repair broken fences, helping a woman find someone to bury her horse killed by a falling tree, or helping people find hay bales — which are hard to find due to the recent drought, particularly the smaller square bales.
"In times like this, it's about partnering and helping each other," she said.
Beaty asks that anyone with hay or grain they are willing to donate contact Emi White via the Chattanooga Equestrian Networking Facebook page.
Reuniting with lost pets
The Humane Educational Society, which serves unincorporated Hamilton County as well as Lakesite, Collegedale and Red Bank, has not seen an influx of animals lost during the tornado come into the shelter. Animal protection officers continue to search for lost and stray pets in areas hit by the storm, said Taylor Hixson, director of fundraising and special events for the society.
Found animals admitted to the shelter are photographed and entered into the Finding Rover database. Owners can upload a clear picture of their pet's face, which Finding Rover's facial recognition feature can use to find a match. Hixson said families are still encouraged to search through all the photos on a regular basis in case the system isn't able to match the photos.
She also encourages people to search under porches, cars and other potential hiding places, as pets who are scared sometimes hide for a period of time until they feel safe.
The organization has had a good response from people willing to foster animals during the coronavirus pandemic, said Hixson, and the humane society is using the space freed up through its foster program to provide emergency shelter for up to 30 days to pets whose families were displaced by the storm. Because of limited space at the shelter, the group asks that only people whose homes were lost or significantly damaged board their animals at the shelter.
East Ridge Animal Services has not admitted any animals lost during the storm, despite the degree of damage the tornado caused to buildings in the city, said Officer Crystal Reno with East Ridge Animal Services.
The agency received one call about a lost pet, which has already been reunited with its owner through the East Ridge Lost & Found Pets Facebook page, she said. Other local areas, such as Hamilton County, Chattanooga and Georgia counties such as Catoosa and Walker have similar Facebook pages that she suggests people who may have lost pets use as resources.
In contrast to the humane society and the East Ridge shelter, McKamey Animal Center — which serves the city of Chattanooga, including the storm-ravaged areas of East Brainerd and Ooltewah — received more than 1,000 calls from people frantically searching for their pets, McAloon said.
About a dozen new intakes following the storm were from displaced families moving in with relatives or to other places where they could not bring their pets, McAloon said, but most animals that have come into McKamey following the storm are there because their owners arranged for emergency boarding while they are displaced from their homes and living in shelters or hotels. McKamey is currently boarding 20 such pets free of charge, McAloon said.
Fewer than five animals that were found in rough situations in hard-hit areas without their owners were brought into the shelter by McKamey officials, she said.
Assistance with pet food
The humane society is extending the services of its pet food pantry, which was established before the storms to help people who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, to people affected by tornadoes.
In its first week of operation, the pantry provided more than 600 pounds of pet food to people in the community, according to a news release.
Hixson said people in need of pet food can call the pantry at 423-708-8994 to set up an appointment to pick up their food, which is prepared prior to their arrival based on the number of animals they need to feed. They then pick up the food at the HES thrift store, 4784 TN-58, where a pantry worker will bring it out to their car.
The group hopes to offer a delivery option for the pantry soon, she said.
Combined with the twice-weekly pet food deliveries to communities unable to leave their homes during the coronavirus outbreak, pet food provided to people affected by the tornadoes — including a group of churches offering pet food assistance to people in the Cleveland area — has depleted McKamey's pet food pantry, she said.
But due to Chattanooga's history of supporting the nonprofit shelter, she's confident their supply will be replenished.
"I was amazed that people were asking how they could help us as they stood amidst bricks and rubble," she said. "This is a community of such great animal lovers who support their shelters."
Email Emily Crisman at email@example.com.