Tornado Hits Moore, Oklahoma: Full Coverage

05.23.13

The Twister Stole My Pet: How Cats, Dogs, and a Donkey Survived Oklahoma

Dogs, cats, horses—even a donkey. They’ve all been lost and found in the days after a tornado hit Moore. Christine Pelisek on the animal rescues—and one woman’s quest for her parrot.

When the twister tore through Moore, Mona Thomas lost everything. "My house is leveled," the 52-year-old grandmother said on Wednesday. “I don’t have a home anymore.”

Even so, all she cared about was her parrot.

“He’s been an important part of my life,” she said of Leroy, a 9-year-old African gray. “I’m single, so it’s just me and him. I talk about him all the time. He’s like my kid.”

Fortunately, two days after the storm ripped through, Leroy and Mona’s story found a happy ending: the beloved was tracked down to a nearby foster home. Leroy had survived, but had an injured wing and a scuffed beak. “He doesn’t look good,” Thomas reported.

Mona Thomas is just one of hundreds of Moore residents who were separated from their pets during the tornado. In the days afterward, an ad hoc network of Facebook pages, temporary shelters, volunteer veterinarians, and even a Reddit subthread have sprung up to help residents reunite with their beloved animals. Dogs, cats, horses, birds, even a donkey—they've all been lost and found. One animal welfare worker even found a live sheltie in a tree.

Most famously, of course, Barbara Garcia found her dog buried alive in rubble as she was giving an interview to a television news reporter.

Video screenshot

Uplifting stories emerged from the rubble when survivors of the tornado found their pets, but there are still many animals waiting for their owners.

It’s unclear just how many animals have died in the tornado, which has claimed the lives of 24 people and injured about 240. More than 100 horses from a thoroughbred training center reportedly perished after the farm’s stall and barns took a direct hit. “Some horses didn’t survive, nor did a number of animals,” said Kirby Smith, a public information manager with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry. “We don’t know how many animals have died because some of the areas are too dangerous to go in. We are still assessing the situation.”

“We’ve been going street by street looking for pets as well as answering and responding to calls,” said Dr. Brian Wright, a veterinarian who is also aiding in the efforts to reunite pets with their owners. “The dogs are easy to catch, but the cats are more elusive.” (Because the cats are so hard to catch, a animal control officer told The Daily Beast that they are setting safe traps for them in neighborhoods and trying to lure them with cat food).

Once the animals are safely caught, they’re transported to one of a handful of local makeshift shelters, like Home Depot or the Animal Rescue Center in Moore. April Gooch, who is vice president of Cross Timbers Animal Guardian Society and is volunteering at the rescue center, anticipated that animal control and residents of the community will bring in around 150 lost animals by the end of Wednesday. She said the rescue center has quickly become a revolving door for people who are hoping to reunite with their pets. “To see the animals and owners react when they see each other makes me teary-eyed,” she says. “They have both seen so much trauma, but then they get some peace when they’re back together.” 

“I heard only one gray parrot was found and it was him,” Thomas said with a grin.

Mona Thomas was on the phone with her son, a Moore police officer,  when the sirens began to blare on Monday warning her of the incoming tornado. She said she only had 30 seconds to find cover when the tornado hit, and didn’t have time to grab Leroy, who was in a cage in the kitchen.

She rushed inside the closet and waited for the storm to pass. “I thought I was going to die,” she recalled. “I was scared to death. I lived in Tornado Alley for 30 years and I was lucky because my house was always on the outskirts. I didn’t think my house would become a pile of wood.”

Thomas said that once the house collapsed she was buried underneath four feet of rubble. ”I prayed my son would hurry up and get there,” she said. “I had a cell phone and I was banging it consistently.”

Her son, police, and firefighters arrived almost immediately and pulled her out from under the debris within the hour. She said she suffered only minor cuts and scratches. “I feel beat up and like I have splinters all over my body,” she says.

130522-pelisek-parrot
Mona Thomas's pet parrot, who was lost for two days after Monday's tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. (Mona Thomas)

But, once she stood up, she immediately asked her son where Leroy’s cage was. “He said, ‘Mom he’s gone,’” Thomas says.

Thomas, who said she inherited Leroy from a friend who passed away, was undeterred. She began to frantically search for her feathered friend by checking out the numerous pet shelters in nearby Norman and Oklahoma City.

On Wednesday afternoon, she stopped by the Animal Rescue Center and was told that Leroy had been found safe and his photo was posted on Facebook. He was staying with a foster parent until his owner was traced down.

“He was found three hours after the tornado hit,” she says. “He’s not wild. He’s a house pet. I don’t think he would have survived the night. He had been calling for Mona and Amber [her daughter-in-law].”

“I heard only one gray parrot was found and it was him,” Thomas said with a grin. “I’m just glad he’s alive and I can get him back so he doesn’t think I abandoned him.”

130522-pelisek-animals2-embed
An orphaned dog in a Moore, Oklahoma, temporary shelter. (Christine Pelisek)

Karl Strouhal is still waiting for his reunion with his missing pet. Strouhal says his husky-shepherd mix Charlie has been missing since the tornado destroyed his family home. Charlie and two of his other dogs were in the backyard playing when the tornado flattened his neighborhood. One of his dogs was found alive among the debris. Another one, Fry, was found the next day in his son’s car, curled up on the floor.

“Charlie never really left the backyard,” he said. “He was the more skittish of the three dogs. It’s amazing that the other two dogs are alive.”

Strouhal said a canine team went through the wreckage and didn’t find any signs of death, so he is keeping up hope. “I am hoping and praying and I believe if I keep looking I will find him,” he says. “I have to keep persevering. I’m praying Charlie is in a shelter somewhere.”