EVANSVILLE, Ind. — For an hour or so in the awful aftermath of last weekend’s tornadoes in Kentucky, the clouds parted long enough to let in a tiny ray of sunshine in a darkened parking lot in Evansville.
As volunteers and newly enlisted foster home owners anxiously watched, a minivan rolled up at It Takes a Village No-Kill Rescue on Tuesday night. It was filled to the brim with crates bearing precious cargo — nine dogs, large and small, plus three kittens and their mother — direct from tornado-torn Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
The dogs were long-timers from the Muhlenberg County Humane Society, taken to clear space for animals recovered in tornado-affected areas whose owners might still be searching for them. The cats — a docile gray and black-striped female and three pocket-sized black kittens — were found hiding in rubble from the two tornadoes that touched down in Muhlenberg.
For all her seriousness of purpose in being there, Tabatha Helmick hovered around the minivan beaming in anticipation and joy at the site of the bedraggled animals as they were taken out. Helmick had somehow gotten a line on a shepherd mix named Buddy, and she couldn’t wait to meet him.
“When we heard about the tornado, we just decided to reach out and see if we could help out somehow,” she said.
Buddy will be a temporary member of Helmick and her husband’s family, of course. Temporary — unless he captures their hearts and causes them to rethink the arrangement. She thinks he’ll be a great companion for their two dogs of similar breeds.
When the Helmicks found out ITV was seeking foster homes for animals from Kentucky, they knew they had to step up. Her son and his wife live near areas devastated by the tornadoes, on the border between Ohio and Daviess counties.
“Their house did not suffer any damage, but about a mile or so down the road in Hartford, they did have a lot of damage,” Helmick said. “It’s awful. Anything anybody can do to help out, they need to do so.”
Area animal welfare groups scrambling to organize rescue efforts
Vanderburgh Humane Society also plans to go to Muhlenberg County to take some of the shelter’s long-timers to free up kennel space for tornado-affected animals. VHS, which is already at its capacity, has put out a call for foster families so it can make room.
Fast-moving events and hastily made arrangements between animal rescue organizations in Kentucky and nearby parts of Indiana have VHS poised to move in any direction needed at a moment’s notice, director Kendall Paul said.
“We were prepared to go to Hopkins County (Humane Society) to take their dogs, and then a Louisville (rescue) group that was going to take their cats ended up able to take their dogs as well, so Hopkins County said, ‘Hey, we should be in good shape with animals. Why don’t you guys contact Muehlenberg?'” Paul said.
Paul said the Muhlenberg County Humane Society asked VHS Wednesday morning to wait for its signal to come, so numerous are the rescue groups and volunteers shuttling in and out of the place.
“We are still planning a supply trip down to Hopkins (Thursday). We’ve arranged for some food and 600 pounds of (cat) litter to be delivered to them,” Paul said.
ITV said Wednesday morning it may make another trip to Muhlenberg County later in the day, but those plans had not come together as yet.
The Vanderburgh Humane Society, located at 400 Millner Industrial Drive in Evansville, can be reached by phone at (812) 426-2563. ITV is located at 1417 N. Stockwell Road in Evansville. It can be reached at (812) 909-1306.
Two tornadoes touched down in Muhlenberg County, one wreaking havoc about 17 miles across tiny, rural Bremen, Ky. The powerful storms demolished many homes and killed at least 11 people, including District Judge Brian Crick.
Dogs barked and people could be heard shouting and scurrying around as Janetta Smith, director of the Muhlenberg County Humane Society, described the chaos there late Tuesday afternoon. ITV’s rescue party had just arrived.
“We’ve been trying to set up a command base or something to try to – we know that we’ve had at least 20-plus people that’s notified us that their animals are missing or they’re looking for certain animals,” Smith said.
Smith didn’t know then how many animals may be missing in Muhlenberg County. Her group has been trying to get pet owners who call to send photos of their animals, but many don’t have them.
“We’ve done a lot of drive-through the areas where we where we can get to them,” Smith said. “I figure in the next few days we’ll actually get more of how many animals are actually still missing or showing up on people’s doorstep, where they’ve traveled through the woods or whatever.”
Some missing animals have been taken to the office of a veterinarian who has agreed to board them temporarily without charge. With groups like ITV and VHS taking some of its “long-timers” off its hands, the Muhlenberg County Humane Society hopes to retrieve those animals soon. Some families who still have their pets have found they can’t take them into shelters, and they need assistance, too.
People are helping from all over the region, Smith said.
“We have taken a few (animals) and actually found their homes and got them back reunited with family,” Smith said.
She paused, her voice cracking with emotion.
“It’s very overwhelming when you actually go to the communities with such great loss and try to help the animals when there’s so many people that’s needing help and you’re pulled in so many different directions,” she said. “We just want to make sure that the families know that we have their animals and they’re safe until they can get to them.”
Much work is yet to be done, ITV says
ITV’s minivan rolled into the parking lot at 7 p.m. Tuesday with executive director Tangila Smith at the wheel and founder Susan Odoyo in the passenger seat. A friendly pit bull mix had wrapped itself around Odoyo’s feet. There weren’t quite enough crates.
Odoyo, Smith and ITV’s volunteers would have at least another two hours ahead of them vaccinating and de-worming the animals, some of whom were set to go to foster homes Wednesday. ITV had a few kennels open for the animals. The cats’ kennel was relegated to a bathroom. Smith took them home with her and brought them back Wednesday.
The Muhlenberg County Humane Society’s offices are just six miles from tornado-torn Bremen, Ky., Odoyo said.
“When we walked in, every single dog kennel was full,” she said. “They’re constantly getting displaced dogs. Right now they need dog houses to help with people that are displaced and are staying at people’s houses, as I understand it, but they don’t have room for their animals.”
‘We thought this was a way we could help out after the storms’
Breeanna Cox of Spotsville, Ky., was at ITV with her mother Tuesday night looking for a big dog that could assimilate well with her and her fiance’s other three big dogs — a huskie mix, a pyrenees mix and a mastiff mix.
Cox works in social services for the Green River Area Development District in Owensboro. Some of the counties it covers were affected by the tornadoes.
“We thought this was a way we could help out after the storms,” Cox said as ITV’s other dogs whined and barked behind her. She smiled at the sound.
Cox eventually found her dog, an indisputably big golden retriever mix that looked a bit underfed. She and her mother got acquainted with the new foster dog as they waited for their paperwork.
“He needs a brushing and some groceries,” Cox said with a smile. “We’re dog people.”
Thomas B. Langhorne can be reached by email at [email protected]