In late May, a series of heavy thunderstorms rolled over Central Oklahoma dumping historic rainfall into the Arkansas River watershed.
As the river and its tributaries began to come up out of their banks, our American Humane rescue team jumped into action. Under the coordination of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, we deployed our team and resources and partnered up with local organizations the Oklahoma Large Animal First Responders and Code 3 Associates, Inc.
Just downstream from Tulsa, Okla., the town of Webbers Falls had to be evacuated as the river spilled over and filled every street and home. The water flowed more than 5 feet deep in the majority of the town.
During the panic of evacuation, some pets had been left behind. It is easy to think you would never leave your pets behind in a situation like this, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Large dogs that don’t get along can’t be loaded together into the only vehicle you have to get you and your entire family out of harm’s way. The storm’s rapid onslaught left local residents no time to find carriers… and no one imagined just how deep the water would ultimately become.
Once these pet owners were safe, they immediately reached out to their local fire department in desperation regarding their pets that they knew were in extreme danger. Fire department regulations restricted them from putting animals into their boats, so they teamed up with American Humane for our animal rescue and handling expertise.
It had been two full days since the town flooded when our rescue team was able to get access into the area. We knew that if these pets were still alive, they were reaching a vital life or death point. It’s a strange feeling navigating a motorized boat down the flooded streets of a town where a community once lived happily. Now the dark, toxic soup of flood water swirled through every structure we passed. As we approached the known area where some dogs had been left in a fenced yard, we realized that now the tops of those fences were several feet underwater.
We spotted one dog that had climbed onto some floating debris, but as we approached, the fearful animal jumped into the water and swam away from us. Eventually, with gentle coaxing and careful movements, we were able to capture the dog and get him transported to safety.
There was so much floating debris in the area that we almost didn’t see the exhausted nose and paws of another dog, Roscoe, who was clinging to life in the branches of a tree that was now almost completely underwater. We approached him carefully and quietly for fear that he was so exhausted he might just go under into the dark water. With much care our team was able to rescue Roscoe and get his large, exhausted body into our boat. He had clearly been in the water for a long period of time, as his stocky build made it difficult for him to climb onto floating debris. We shuttled him quickly back to our launch location for sheltering and observation.
By the end of the day we had rescued five dogs and four cats from Webbers Falls. The following morning, when we examined them at the animal shelter, each was more rested following a dry night’s sleep and seemed to be on their way to recovery. One can only imagine the memories they carry from their ordeal.
The residents of Webbers Falls lost everything when their town was flooded. Helping save their pets during a disaster of these proportions is something the American Humane rescue team does not only for the animals, but also for the people that love them. The power of the human-animal bond can be the one thing that gives them the strength to get back up off their knees and walk through life again.