Walker County was one of the most devastated areas in Alabama after April tornadoes ravaged the state. The animals in the county, as well as humans, were tragically affected.
Thanks to what Alabamians term as a “one woman dynamite show” for helpless displaced animals, Walker County resident Jennifer Bidwell organized the Walker County Animals in Disaster team.
Bidwell said, “While assessing preliminary damage control for the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), I encountered abandoned animals at every turn; dogs still chained at demolished houses and mobile homes; dead, barely alive or injured. Others were traumatized, frantically searching for safety – until they dropped from exhaustion and dehydration. Cats and kittens peered out of the rubble, weakly meowing for help.”
“I had to do something for the animals”, said Bidwell. And, “do something,” she did!
“At first I started taking dog and cat food, livestock feed, jugs of water and medical supplies along on my route. I quickly realized the number of suffering animals was overwhelming and I would have to solicit assistance from the broad community”.
Bidwell said she went to Walker County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) with her plea for the animal victims. According to Bidwell, EMA was more than willing to offer assistance, and “it boomeranged from there”.
The Jasper Jaycees provided facilities and land at the JC Fairgrounds. The volunteer fire departments and an innumerable amount of everyday citizens answered the call to donate materials, build kennels, doghouses, fences and supply bedding for the vulnerable animals. Local veterinarians contributed their services, making it possible to save untold numbers of injured and sick animals.
“The response from our community was nothing short of phenomenal”, remarked Bidwell. “In addition to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s assistance, local businesses, non-profit groups from the region, and across the entire country, stepped up with supplies.”
“We took in a variety of species; goats, horses, cows and a snake or two,” commented Bidwell. Our efforts were coordinated with the Facebook page, Animals Lost and Found in Alabama Tornadoes, resulting in a large number of pets being reunited with their owners.”
FEMA was so impressed with Bidwell’s accomplishment that the agency is studying Walker County Animals in Disaster Team’s strategies and speedy organizational methods for use in future disasters.The Walker County Animals in Disaster Unit was closed on June 15, and the remaining animals were sent to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. Bidwell encourages Alabamians to contact GBHS to adopt or foster storm animals who are still at this facility.
Bidwell said the local animals will not be placed at a facility in which they will be put down. But the pets will likely go to shelters or foster homes, some out of state. But she added, “local adoption could spare them one less traumatic event.”
Walker County Humane Society WCHS, previously operating as county animal control – and funded by Walker county and the city of Jasper – will close it’s doors June 30. Earlier this month, WCHS officials announced that they seek to distance themselves from the business of running an animal pound to focus the humane society’s attention on community educational goals.
The future welfare of abandoned, injured and homeless dogs and cats in this county is critical. County officials could not be contacted for a statement, but this reporter was informed at County Commission office that negotiations for a county run animal control facility is in the works.
In the midst of tragic circumstances, Animals in Disaster Unit exhibited what a dedicated community can effectuate for it’s homeless animals. Bidwell says that residents are counting on the new animal control system, when in place, to offer an aggressive adoption program, along with spay and neuter requirements and compassionate hands-on care. She shared her hope that citizens will not forget the success of the community disaster effort and apply the learned experience in making Walker county a safe and happy home for animals as well as the human population.