PAWS Chicago to help with Oklahoma emergency response mission - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

PAWS Chicago to help with Oklahoma emergency response mission

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

The tornado that struck Oklahoma on Monday took a devastating toll in the number of lives lost and property destroyed. But amidst the anguish and destruction there is another "heart-wrenching" tragedy -- displaced pets.

"Oklahoma City Animal Care & Control is seeing a huge increase in the number of homeless pets as a result of the storm," according to PAWS Chicago executive director Rochelle Michalek.

"They have taken in more than 150 displaced pets, and, just as we saw in Katrina, they have to hold those animals for 30 days to allow their owners to reunite with them," she said.

"These are dogs that we know have an owner, but we can't find them right away. And in sheltering there is not infinite space, so that means other dogs must be euthanized to make room for the disaster dogs."

Michalek said that is not a pleasant thought, but the tornado dogs come first.

"We were all touched in some way by what happened down there. Imagine leaving for work in the morning and coming home at night to find your life destroyed," she said. "Pets are a big part of our lives, and to lose your pet along with everything else is just heart-wrenching.

"But it's also sad that the influx of displaced dogs will mean others lose their lives. So that is why we are going."

"We don't want them to have to euthanize to make room for the storm dogs," PAWS spokeswoman Sarah Ahlberg said. "The goal is to free space in Oklahoma shelters, enabling them to assist animals displaced by the tornado."

So PAWS, as it has in other disasters, will be making an emergency response mission to Oklahoma, sending medical teams and volunteers to bring pets back to Chicago.

"We brought back about 240 Katrina dogs," Michalek said, "as well as dogs from the Iowa floods. During the flooding in Marseilles we set up an emergency food bank for families with pets and little else."

About 75 dogs, some in need of medical care, will be brought back from Oklahoma and placed into PAWS' adoption program.

That will require a mammoth volunteer effort, and Michalek said so far the community response has been "wonderful," with more than 225 volunteers already scheduled and more welcome.

Because of the size and short timeframe, PAWS is accepting untrained volunteers to do some of the work that does not involve handling animals, Michalek said.

"We will do some quicky training sessions for people as needed, and the people who have not been trained can do other things such as cleaning and preparing shelter space, and feeding."

PAWS medical and intake teams left for Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon, while volunteers in eight or more vans will be leaving Friday afternoon, Michalek said. The vans, filled with homeless dogs, will return late Saturday night to the Rescue & Recovery Center at 3516 W. 26th St. in Lawndale, she said.

The dogs will be bathed and fed, then get vaccinations, microchips and spay/neuter surgeries on Sunday. Sick or injured animals will receive medical treatment and be placed in foster homes until they recover, Michalek said.

Once healthy, they will be put up for placement at PAWS' Adoption Center at 1997 N. Clybourn in Lincoln Park, where the healthiest of the new arrivals will be available starting at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day.

And this is just the first trip to Oklahoma, Michalek said.

In about 30 days, when families have had time to find lost pets, "we will go back down to get more," said -- this time storm orphans who were not reunited with families.

Anyone wishing to volunteer can email volunteerrsvp@pawschicago.org. To provide a foster home, email foster@pawschicago.org or call (773) 475-9464. Or to donate to the effort, visit the PAWS website at http://tinyurl.com/donatepawschicago or visit its Facebook page.

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