Joplin’s tiny mews are scarcely heard over the sounds on the tarmac—whirring airplane engines, the chatter of bustling rescue workers, and the cries of the 50 other cats who have made the journey with him. Weeks ago, Joplin’s home was destroyed by a violent force of nature. Now he’s traveled more than 2,000 miles across the country in search of a new one.
On May 22, 2011, a deadly tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 162 people, and leaving many more injured and homeless.
“The pictures and video don’t do the damage justice,” says volunteer Byron Wilkes who was part of the relief effort in Joplin. His eyes grow wide as he describes the devastation. “When you see brick and concrete walls reinforced by rebar literally ripped to shreds, you start to understand the impact of winds spinning up to 370-plus miles-an-hour.”
Among those left homeless by the tornado are over 1,300 cats and dogs. Some were lucky enough to be reunited with their families in the weeks following the disaster, but many more were left unclaimed. One of these less fortunate animals is named Joplin—a tiny orange kitten born into a world that was torn to pieces on that terrible spring day. So young that his eyes were still closed when he was found struggling in the rubble. He was hungry, scared and alone.
Now, five weeks after the tornado, PAWS Director of Companion Animal Services Kay Joubert tracks the movements of a tiny airplane across her computer screen, preparing for a very special delivery. Byron and pilot Ted Dupuis are flying in from Joplin, Missouri in an airplane packed with furry cargo. They will arrive at Arlington Airport in the late afternoon. Kay grew up in Missouri and understands the terrifying effects of tornados. PAWS has assisted in emergency rescues in the past, so when asked to help in the Joplin relief efforts, Kay rises to the occasion. “All I could think was how glad I was we could help these animals and the people in Missouri. They went through so much trauma and heartache.”
After a 12 hour trip, Byron is both pleased and anxious as the plane lands. He’s glad the cats have reached their destination, but worries about some of the smaller kittens struggling to survive, especially one tiny orange kitten. Joplin requires a lot of specialized attention. Byron spends as much time with the kitten as he can. “We had to carefully feed him fluids one drop at a time because he was unable or unwilling to eat wet food.”
Joplin survives the flight, and even though he’s only four weeks old, his friendly personality already shines through. He cries out for the many people passing by, but despite his efforts he can’t distract the PAWS rescue team. The crew is busy checking the 50 cats from the plane and loading them into vans to move these tiny survivors one step closer to their forever homes. PAWS takes in 24 cats, with the remaining felines going to N.O.A.H.
The kittens spend several weeks with foster parents, and once strong enough, are transferred to PAWS Cat City to be adopted. But Joplin will never see Cat City. He will never watch potential new families stare at him through the window. Joplin will not be put up for adoption. That’s because Joplin already has a new forever home—with Byron.
Rescue teams from PAWS and N.O.A.H. take in feline survivors of the deadly May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri.