Pets displaced by tornadoes await reunions

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Those leaving the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter these days are either overjoyed after finding their pets lost when tornadoes ravaged the region or heartbroken and often moved to tears when they don’t.

Reginald Jackson has felt both.

He walked up and down the rows of cages, looking for his pit bull Bolo, but the dog was nowhere to be found. About to leave, distressed that his year-old animal was still missing, Jackson looked and there was Bolo. A veterinarian was walking him from an exam.

“Someone was coming in the door with him,” said the 55-year-old Jackson, a stockroom worker. “I was glad to see him.”

Hundreds of animals have ended up at this single shelter after the storms. Some are injured, others simply scarred by fear.

“These dogs are so stressed out, they are scared and they just don’t want to come up to the front of the cage,” said Linda Workman, the shelter’s assistant director. “They’re just as traumatized as the humans.”

The trauma is evident in the dogs who have crouched in the backs of their cages, fearful of passersby.

“Even the seemingly healthy dogs are suffering a lot of stress,” said Dr. Riggs Wagenheim, a Tuscaloosa veterinarian volunteering at the shelter this day.

Workman has found the days since the storms struck to be especially emotional, even as she’s encouraged by the mounds of supplies that have been donated and the volunteers who come to give their time.

“I think every day I’ve gone home and shed a tear or two, just looking at our town and what’s happened to it and just listening to the stories of people and things that they don’t have,” she said. “I see my animals, I think to myself, ‘Dogs, you better be really grateful, you have a home.'”

The tough part is dealing with those who come in crying, then crying even more when they can’t find their pet. Shirley Long, 52, can’t find her black pit bull, Trena, but remained hopeful.

She scoured the cages, looking.

“I love my animals just like I love my children,” said the mother of nine and owner of three dogs.

Ambling along to the cacophony of howls and barks, Long made her way through the final row of cages, but left empty handed.

“It is very frustrating,” she said. “I miss her. I miss her. I really do.”

Workman promises to call Long if a match is made.

Matt Sedensky/The Associated Press