After tornadoes, hurricanes and other major storms hit a region, the furry faces begin to pop up on Facebook. People who survived the storm have become separated from their pets that may have gotten out during the worst of the storm or had their home destroyed by the storm. Social media has been key in families finding pets after disasters.
One group - National Disaster Animal Response and Recovery Teams or NDARRT - has been manning the Facebook page helping reunite pets in Washington and Pekin with their families after Sunday's tornado. Members of the group are scatter all over the country and they pitch in to help when disaster strikes.
"We got to know each other during the Moore, Oklahoma recovery efforts," says Susanna Pickle, one of the board members of the group. "We discovered that during disasters there is not one central place to go to find your animal or for people who find animals to bring them in to be reunited with family. Often, like in Oklahoma, the area is just too large for one central location but social media can help bridge the gap."
Shortly after the EF4 tornado tore through Central Illinois, the Peoria/Washington Illinois Lost and Found Pets-NDARRT site was set up and it quickly garnered a lot of followers. On the site, people post missing pets, found pets and those reunited with their family in one central location. The page also includes other information about where pets are being taken and where pet donations may be dropped off. It's all crucial in finding pets that could be anyplace.
"There are a lot of wonderful national non-profits that have great response teams but they can only do so much," says Pickle. "We hope to build organic teams in each state to help with the efforts. This is a great tool for people to connect. Some states, like Oklahoma, will have larger teams than others."
After Moore, Oklahoma, the group had two very large disasters in Colorado - the wild fires and the floods - to tackle during a few short months. She says one of the things that is key in reuniting pets and families is that people are diligent in looking for their pet, that they have good photos and are able to give a good description of distinquishing marks.
"A lot of people are creating an emergency record folder of their pet with up to date photos, vet records and other information," she says. "Having photos on cell phones that can easily be accessed helps as well. However, in the case of storms like this, people may lose everything, including the phone. It's a good idea to have the information someplace else as well like your vet or someplace else you trust."
If you've lost a pet in the storm, post your pet and check for posts of anyone who may have found your pet on the sites below. Although this site was set up to be a central location, other sites have cropped up as well. Lost Dogs Illinois and this site have been cross checking as well.
- Peoria/Washington Illinois Lost and Found Pets-NDARRT
- Lost Pets (album on NDARRT Site)
- Found Pets (album on NDARRT Site)
- Reunited pets (album on NDARRT Site)
- Illinois Tornado Animals Lost & Found
- Pet Recovery in Gifford and surrounding areas
- Brookport, Illinois Tornado Pets Lost and Found
- This page has been set up for pet drives for Washington/Pekin
- Lost Dogs Illinois
- Lost Cats of Illinois
Pickle has some other tips as well -
- If you lose a pet, check with all the local animal controls and veterinary clinics that may be taking in animals.
- If you have photos from more than one angle, use those to make him or her more recognizable.
- If you spot an unfamiliar dog or cat in your neighborhood (outside designated disaster areas), call animal control to take in the animal.
- If you spot an animal in a disaster zone, don't cross into the area but do let responders know the animal is there.
- Some pets may be very friendly and will walk up to you or just be happy to get some attention from someone. If you can leash a dog or crate a dog or cat before they run off, it's a good idea.
- Even if you spot your own pet, be aware that they may be afraid or frightened and run away.
"I think people need to remember that they are not the only ones that may be changed after a disaster. Your pet may also have a shift in personality," she adds. "If your pet was trapped in your home or left alone or lost for a long period of time, he or she may have separation anxiety. A cat that was more aloof may become a lap cat...they may be different."
Some people may be staying someplace where they are not able to keep a pet. She suggests checking with relatives to temporarily house your pet or finding a rescue that may be able to foster for the short term until you get settled.
"The beauty of SmartPhones and Facebook is that you have this tool in your pocket that can quickly take a photo and connect with other people," says Pickle. It's a tool that goes beyond times of disaster. On a daily basis, groups like Lost Dogs Illinois has found to be very successful in reuniting lost dogs with their families as well.
Disasters like this also reinforce the importance of getting your pet microchipped, making sure that your pet is registered under your number and also registered under a secondary number (like a veterinarian).
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