JOPLIN, Mo. — Thousands of animal lovers from Missouri and beyond flocked to Joplin over the weekend to adopt hundreds of pets displaced by a deadly tornado in late May.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Joplin Humane Society found permanent homes for 745 pets during an "adopt-a-thon" event on Saturday and Sunday. The groups say they drew more than 5,700 people from 24 states.
Organizers waived adoption fees to encourage participation, and all cats and dogs were spayed or neutered and provided with microchips, vaccines and identification tags at no cost.
"We're completely floored by the amazing outpouring of support," said Joplin native Tim Rickey, an ASPCA field investigator. "Thanks to the generosity of these wonderful people, the animals left homeless by last month's tornado are sleeping in new beds tonight."
The national animal advocacy group provided emergency shelter for 1,300 pets since the May 22 tornado that killed 156 people, injured hundreds and destroyed an estimated 7,000 homes.
Nearly 500 animals were reunited with their owners. Two hundred more animals await adoption, including newborns and injured animals not yet ready to leave. Those who are not adopted locally will be sent to rescue organizations across the country.
Prospective pet owners began lining up at 5 a.m. on Saturday, five hours before the event's official start, the Joplin Globe reported. Managing the overflow crowd required the help of local police and volunteers.
Several owners named their new pets "Joplin," while others opted for "MoJo," and "JoMo," shorthand variations of the city and state names. One adopted pet was even named "F-5" after the savage tornado's storm rating.
Shelter workers took extensive steps to reunite lost and injured animals with their owners, from posting yard signs and fliers to radio and TV ads to social media campaigns. They also extended the mandatory holding period for animals affected by the disaster an effort to reunite as many people and pets as possible but also acknowledged that some pet owners, overwhelmed by circumstances, likely chose to abandon their animals.
To handle the additional cats and dogs, the organization fixed up two vacant warehouses next to the shelter into air-conditioned kennels. None of the pets left homeless by the tornado will be euthanized.