Karen Aquino's workplace is surrounded by animals. The Joplin Humane Society is literally full of dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds and other domestic animals, a 900-strong motley crew of those that have survived the city's disaster but are now on their own. The shelter's typical capacity of 325 is currently almost tripled, with animals filling the normally vacant warehouses surrounding the building. By June 26, Aquino, the organization's executive director, would like to see those warehouses empty.
Since disaster struck, 400 of the 1,300 animals originally brought to the shelter have been claimed by owners. Those that remain likely belong to families who moved or are in no position to reclaim their pets.
And so on June 25 and 26, the organization will open its doors and waive traditional adoption fees from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for an adopt-a-thon to find new homes for those left behind.
"There's a little, tiny black, ugly old dog that has only a face a mother could love, and I've just fallen in love with her," says Aquino, whose home includes two dogs and two cats of her own. "I don't know her name, but I know I can't take her home, so all I can do is make sure she's cared for. The hardest thing is just not being able to take them all home, but there's joy in kissing them goodbye and putting them in the arms of their new families."
The animals are not immune to the ill effects of the event that removed them from their homes. It's taken its toll on the health of some survivors. As of last week, 140 animals lived in the hospital section of the humane society's care due to extreme health issues. Of the remaining 900 animals, 600 are healthy enough and of the correct age to be adopted next weekend.
"At first the animals were highly stressed, but they've calmed down and adjusted to their environment," Aquino says. All of the facility's canine residents have been tested for temperament issues that can result from the disaster: "They're all super-friendly and will make great additions to their families."
Although assisted by a $100,000 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Joplin Humane Society has struggled to meet the financial demands that come with treating a group that's three times its typical number. "The bills are just now starting to roll in for medical care for extra supplies," Aquino says. (The ASPCA grant was named in memory of Aquino's stepdaughter, Rachel Markham, who died in the tragedy.) "The entire thing has added tremendous strain to our already tight budget. They are things we never planned for."
Although the society's staff roots its plans in the firm belief that all 600 animals will be adopted next weekend, its partner organizations, a group that includes rescue organizations and other shelters, are prepared to take any animals who remain homeless after the adopt-a-thon. The humane society accepts donations and provides information at joplinhumane.org.
"We're hoping to clear the building out," Aquino says. "That would be wonderful for the animals."