NORMAN — Nothing compares to watching a tornado victim reunite with a pet, volunteer Jerry Means says.
“It's the coolest thing ever. Not watching the human, so much — they're excited, but that's to be expected — but I mean watching the animal,” Means said.
Means, of Westminster, Colo., has watched the reunions happen daily at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, where a temporary shelter was established for displaced dogs and cats.
“It's the best thing in the world to see an animal go from moping in a cage to watching as that excitement takes over its body when it sees its human again,” Means said. “It's sheer joy.”
Means, an arson investigator with the Colorado State Bureau of Investigation, came to Oklahoma as soon as he heard about the tornado that hit Moore. He volunteers at disasters as a way to pay back his dog Sadie “for all she's done for me.”
Sadie, a black Labrador retriever with a sharp nose, is a nationally certified accelerant detection K-9 who has worked more than 400 fires with Means. Sadie was named Law Enforcement Dog of the Year in the 2011 American Humane Association's Hero Dog Awards.
Dogs and cats rescued from tornado debris by animal control workers or volunteers with the American Humane Association are being taken to the fairgrounds at 615 E Robinson St. and two other locations: the Animal Resource Center, 7949 S Interstate 35 Service Road in Oklahoma City; and the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter, 2811 SE 29.
Josh Cary, a volunteer with the American Humane Association, said the pets are photographed and their photos posted on boards at each site.
“That way a pet owner can go to one location and see all the pets that have been rescued without having to go to three different places to search for their pet,” Cary said.
About 52 animals have been reunited with their owners at the fairgrounds shelter, Cary said. About 58 dogs and 25 cats remain unclaimed.
About 100 animals are waiting to be claimed at the Animal Resource Center and an additional 40 to 50 at the Oklahoma City shelter.
Means said animals continue to be rescued almost daily.
“We just got a new one in yesterday. These animals are extremely resilient. They hang tough. So we're still very much doing search and rescue,” he said.
Reunion is goal
Carrie Daley, manager at the fairgrounds shelter, said the goal is to reunite every animal with its owner.
“It's incredibly moving when an owner finds his or her pet. That's a very happy experience in the volunteers' lives when that happens.”
The animals get a health check by a veterinarian as soon as they arrive, Daley said. Three have required surgery, but most are in good shape.
Some pets are being kept at the fairgrounds even after their owners find them because the owners lost their houses. Families unable to take their pets home can come to the fairgrounds to play with them until they can find a place to keep them, Daley said.
Owners have about 30 days to claim their lost animals.
People have donated pet supplies for the displaced animals and many have volunteered to provide foster homes.