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Dogs Rescued from Joplin Tornado Begin New Lives

Weather Channel reporter adopts dogs, urges pet owners to have a disaster plan

  • Weather Channel reporter Mike Bettes adopted a dog rescued from the Joplin, Mo., May tornado after he covered the story. Mike Bettes

  • Weather Channel reporter Mike Bettes adopted a dog rescued from the Joplin, Mo., May tornado after he covered the story. Mike Bettes

  • Weather Channel reporter Mike Bettes adopted a dog rescued from the Joplin, Mo., May tornado after he covered the story. Mike Bettes

When The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes and Mike Jenkins went back to Joplin, Mo., one month after the devastating EF5 tornado struck the city in May, one of their assignments was to cover the impact on animals. More than 1,300 animals survived the storm and needed immediate care and sheltering. What they didn't expect was to eventually take two of the animals home.

The Joplin Humane Society stepped in after the storm, setting up a temporary shelter in a warehouse next to its facility and transforming its building into an animal emergency room.

While more than 500 pets were reunited with their families, 745 animals needed new homes. After alerting residents about opportunities to reclaim their pets, all 745 animals went up for adoption.

Big day

Every animal was spayed or neutered, vaccinated and otherwise given the royal treatment by an army of people from 89 organizations who came to help, including a team from The Humane Society of the United States.

"These are the silent victims of the tornado ..."

By the time the Super Adoption Event began on June 25, word had spread to surrounding communities, and thousands of people came from 24 states, drawn by the plight of the homeless animals and wanting to help the animal victims of the tornado.

Bettes and Jenkins attended the event and filed a story for The Weather Channel. “These are the silent victims of the tornado and they needed new homes,” said Bettes.

Bettes is an on-camera meteorologist who cohosts The Weather Channel’s "Your Weather Today". He had been tracking the path of the storm as it approached Joplin and reported live for The Weather Channel within minutes of the tornado's touchdown, beaming scenes of utter devastation to stunned viewers. Being so close to one of the nation’s worst weather events made an impact on him. “When you see it firsthand and experience it, it’s different,” he said.

Seeing all the animals firsthand did a number on him, too. While Bettes had a golden retriever mix as a child, 20 years had passed since he last had a pet. But he spotted a golden retriever from among the hundreds of dogs up for adoption at the event, and he ran through the series of questions that any prospective adopter asks. He concluded that it would be too complicated to get the dog back to his home in Atlanta. However, “I could have taken any one of them home,” he said.

A twist, post-twister

The next day, as Bettes and Jenkins were at the airport preparing to return to Atlanta, Bettes got a text message from Karen Aquino of the Joplin Humane Society. Aquino offered to arrange transport for the golden retriever and an Australian shepherd who had caught Jenkins' eye, if they wanted the dogs. Aquino's group was working with Pilots ‘n Paws to bring in supplies to run the temporary shelter, and she had asked if they could help with transporting the two dogs closer to their new homes.

The reporters jumped at the opportunity to provide a new life for the two dogs. A pilot flew the pair to Knoxville, where Bettes’ fiancé picked them up and drove them to Atlanta. The once homeless golden now goes by the name of Joplyn in honor of her previous home and life. She enjoys hikes along the Chattahoochee River, cooling off in the creek and getting lots of attention from Bettes wherever he takes her. “We have a backpack for her, and when she sees me get it out she goes crazy,” he said. “She also loves to ride in the car."

Bettes is keenly aware of the impact of weather and climate on people’s lives and expresses his hope that people are prepared and aware for whatever mother nature has in store. That extends to caring for animals. “Pets are such an important part of our lives. They are a member of the family.”

Keep your pets safe in a disaster 

Executive director of Joplin Humane Society Karen Aquino, CAWA, advises all pet owners to place current identification on their pets. Approximately 20 percent of the animals coming into the temporary shelter set up after the tornado in Joplin had incorrect ID, she said.

“Send photos of your pets and rabies certificates to your family members, so you can have proof of ownership,” Aquino notes. Many Joplin residents didn’t have photos or medical records because their homes had been destroyed, complicating the reunification effort.