This first appeared in the Bedford Record-Review.
The two tornados that ripped through Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the middle of the night and early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 11, not only caused historic destruction to the city and its residents,
but also displaced and injured thousands of animals.
Since that weekend, Juli Cialone, founder and director of the South Salem based rescue facility, Rock N’ Rescue, said they have rescued 188 animals, including dogs, cats and even some bunnies from the devastation caused by the storms. Ms. Cialone said the Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society is the primary source of animals for the South Salem operation. Since their partnership began in 2017, Ms. Cialone said Rock N’ Rescue, which focuses on cats, has taken in over 4,155 animals. Last year, there
were 2,106 adoptions, and 2022 is already well on pace to pass that number, with 141 adoptions so far this year.
Ms. Cialone and Marla Valentine, co-director and therapy coordinator for Rock N’ Rescue, said they were quickly aware of the severe weather impacting the area of Bowling Green after the first tornado hit the area. Ms. Cialone said she was on a call with a worker at the humane society shelter when tornado warning sirens went off a second time. Once they were able to resume communications with the shelter after the second tornado hit the area, Ms. Cialone said they sprang into action to see what was needed and how they could help.
“The shelter was very lucky since the street next to it was destroyed,” Ms. Cialone said.
Ms. Cialone said the path of the tornado also hit the National Corvette Museum only two blocks away. She said that if the tornado had hit the shelter, every animal there would have been destroyed along
with the building.
Immediately after, Ms. Cialone said the shelter was flooded with families coming in with injured animals or looking for their lost pets. Ms. Valentine said many families whose homes were destroyed were looking for a place where their pets could stay. Motels that provided emergency housing generally did not accept
animals, she noted, although a facility eventually did that permitted pets along with their families.
Ms. Cialone said many of the workers at the local Humane Society have spouses who are first responders. Many shelter staff members accompanied the responders to look for animals in the rubble. The experience was mentally taxing for the shelter staff. In addition to processing the deceased animals brought to the shelter, they spent a lot of time after the storm walking through destroyed blocks checking the animal corpses for microchips for potential identification.
“Everybody knew somebody who was killed or whose home was destroyed,” Ms. Cialone said.
The devastation was so great that entire barns that were full of animals disappeared without a trace. Ms. Cialone said she learned of another situation where family members witnessed their dog being pulled out of their home’s front door by the tornado-force winds.
As for the animals found alive or displaced by the storms, Ms. Cialone said that because of their partnership with Bowling Green and their fosters, the priority has been to use fosters in their area
wherever possible. People who sign up to foster through Rock N’ Rescue are informed of possible “all alert” situations where anyone with extra space is asked to take on more foster animals. While rare,
this emergency status was declared twice in 2021.
Ms. Cialone said fosters in Westchester County and Connecticut jumped at the opportunity to help animals from the storms, and they also sought ways to help the people affected. News of the tornados were put out on the rescue’s social media within hours, and Ms. Cialone said many adopters who knew their animals came from Bowling Green also reached out to help.
“These Bowling Green cats have saved a lot of people’s lives up here,” Ms. Cialone said. Ms. Cialone said once media outlets with large reaches began covering the devastation in Bowling Green, more charities
and services like the Red Cross jumped in to help affected residents.
Animals shelters just across the Kentucky border in Tennessee also helped tremendously, she noted, picking up some of the displaced animals to make room in the humane society shelter. Because so many
roads in Bowling Green were impassable, the Bowling Green shelter was unable to transport animals out of the area.
Rock N’ Rescue specializes in finding animals for families that are not only happy and healthy, but that can provide therapeutic services to those in need. “It was a harder group of cats to deem as therapy
animals, initially,” Ms. Cialone said. Ms. Cialone said many of the cats the rescue operation received after the storm were timid and nervous, especially at first. Ms. Valentine added that some only needed a few days to recover, while others needed weeks.
Ms. Cialone said they had to do additional rounds of socialization and evaluation of these animals to see if there was any additional trauma and ensure that the animals could be used for therapeutic purposes.
Animals tend to forget things easily and mimic their owner’ trauma, she noted, so after being located to new homes with fosters, the animals settled in and began showing their sweet selves.
Ms. Cialone even said many of the fosters who took in animals from the storm ended up adopting them. “The impact is so strong seeing the change in the cat, it’s hard to give them back,” Ms. Valentine added.
Ms. Cialone said Bowling Green, the Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society and the animals are still recovering from the catastrophic devastation. And the number of adoptions is still rising. On Wednesday, Ms. Cialone needed to update the figures after Rock N’ Rescue learned of two more groups of cats were arriving.
“This time, we had to help the people down there that helped us save people up here,” Ms. Cialone said.
As severe weather partly linked to climate change becomes more frequent in the country, Ms. Valentine said there is growing concern for animals caught in these emergencies. Ms. Valentine added that the Bowling Green tornadoes were, unfortunately, not the first time the rescue had to step in after widespread devastation from a weather-related event. After Hurricane Ida struck Houston, Texas, last
September, Ms. Valentine said they took in several groups of cats from people who had their homes destroyed, including a mother cat and her kittens who rode out the storm under a bush.
Ms. Cialone said low winter temperatures in the northeast also pose a large risk to animals. In the past week, two cats were brought to the rescue after being found in the snow suffering from hypothermia.
For more information about Rock N’ Rescue including how to become a foster or how to adopt one of the many animals affected by the Bowling Green tornadoes, visit rnrpets.org.
Story by – Jessica Leibman