Nothing captured the devastating impact of the extreme weather that hit the nation’s midsection this spring like TV news coverage of the monstrous tornado that roared through Joplin, Mo., on May 22, killing more than 150 people.
Quickly on the scene in Joplin the day the tornado struck was The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes. Standing amid the destruction, angry skies still looming in the background, he became overcome by what he was reporting, and had to regain his composure as he described the obliteration of a Joplin neighborhood.
During one of his early reports that showed smoke smoldering in wreckage, and a hospital with smashed-out windows nearby, the camera captured the moving moment when a dog sprang liberated from a pile of debris.
“Oh, they just pulled out their dog. That is great,” Bettes said. Any viewer could sense the sincere relief in the voice of the veteran TV meteorologist, who later told AOPA that although he has covered many natural disasters, this one was different “because it was so fresh and surreal.”
Photographer Jeff Parrott captures this image of himself, Joplyn, and Pilots N Paws volunteer Jim Carney.
How much of an impact the tornado had on Bettes would emerge about a month later—when he met some of the survivors.
“After going back one month after the tornado to do stories on the recovery, we stopped by the Humane Society to do a story on all of the animals left homeless after the tornado,” Bettes said. “I was shocked by the sheer number of dogs and cats. They all looked so sad.”
Pets often end up fending for themselves when disaster strikes a community. In many cases, reunification of those animals with their owners proves impossible. Perhaps the owner perished, was injured, or left homeless. Whatever the reason, many animals simply go unclaimed.
Without a pet since high school, Bettes wanted a dog, but was concerned that his schedule would complicate matters. He talked it over with Allie Chinchar, his fiancée, and with Joplin Humane Society Director Karen Aquino. The decision was a go.
Bettes would name his rescued golden retriever Joplyn. She and an Australian shepherd named Annie, who was being adopted by Bettes’ senior producer, Mike Jenkins, would be flown to their new homes by Pilots N Paws volunteer Jim Carney, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot. Pilots N Paws volunteers provide air transportation that makes it possible to bring displaced animals together with new adoptive owners in distant places.
Annie gets ready to head to her new home after being adopted by Mike Jenkins, senior producer for The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes. Photo courtesy Jeff Parrott.
On June 27, Carney, accompanied by friend and photographer Jeff Parrott, flew Carney’s 1977 Beech Baron 55 from Covington, Tenn., to Joplin, where first he got acquainted with Joplyn and Annie, and then flew them to Knoxville. There, Chinchar awaited the dogs for the three-and-a-half hour drive to Atlanta, Ga.—and for Joplyn and Annie, new lives.
Carney said he started volunteering for flights in 2009 after learning about Pilots N Paws from cofounder Deborah Boies. He said it’s “amazing” how many people love animals, and rise to the occasion when pets are caught up in disasters. They must share his opinion that “a family without a pet is a family that’s incomplete,” he said.
Having grown up on a farm north-northeast of Joplin, he wanted to help after the tragedy. So when Boies offered him the mission, “she didn’t have to twist my arm very hard.”
Carney has two dogs, both rescue animals. He said the dogs from Joplin did well during the flight. Rescue personnel “are very professional people,” he said, and all details such as any required paperwork have been handled in advance of flying. They also brief the pilot on any behavioral issues with a traveling animal.
Before starting a rescue transport flight, Carney does his own brand of a preflight with his passengers, getting to know the animals a little—and vice versa—during some down time and a brief walk.
Carney confided that, while observing the animals in flight, he sometimes gets the feeling that they can sense that their troubles are behind them. That just adds to the satisfaction the pilot feels when flying for Pilots N Paws.
Joplyn sits back for the flight to Knoxville, Tenn. Photo courtesy Jim Carney.
“I love flying and I love dogs, and now I am giving back,” he said.
Bettes was grateful to “Uncle Jim,” as he called Carney, adding that adopting Joplyn would not have been possible without Pilots N Paws.
Joplyn and Annie weren’t the only animals flown to new homes in the wake of the EF5 tornado.
Pilots N Paws cofounder Deborah Boies said that the late-June adoptathon event held in Joplin in conjunction with the ASPCA and the Joplin Humane Society resulted in the placement of 747 animals.
“All the animals were from the Joplin and tornado ravaged area. Thousands of people worked very hard to get these pets either re-connected with their owners or find new homes for them. These were the animals who had no owners claim them,” she said. Even before the big event, “three of our pilots had been flying in and out of Joplin, bringing in dog food, supplies, and flying some rescue animals out.”
Annie and Joplyn arrive in Knoxville, Tenn., and prepare for the next leg of ground transportation. Photo courtesy Mike Bettes.
Doing just fine, thank you.
“She has adjusted very well,” Bettes wrote in an email message. “She loves to go hiking and of course be petted. She loves the attention and we love giving it to her.”
Carney’s philosophy about a pet making a household more complete would probably get Bettes’ vote.
“Joplyn has been one of the best things to ever happen to me,” he wrote. I know I'm helping her, but she probably doesn't realize how much she's helped me.”