People from as far away as New York and Connecticut are lending a hand to help animals affected by the Alabama tornadoes last week.
New York Times' best-selling author Gwen Cooper, who wrote "Homer's Odyssey" about a blind kitten she rescued 16 years ago, wanted to help after learning about the devastated areas in the state.
She knows from personal experience what it's like to be separated from her three cats.
Cooper, of New York, fled the city from her work place near the World Trade Center when 911 happened. She had left enough food and water for the day for her cats -- Homer, Scarlett and Vashti -- thinking she would be home in her 31st floor apartment by that evening.
But hours turned into days and a frantic Cooper, who only had the clothes on her back, had done everything in her power to reach the cats to no avail. She worried her apartment windows had been blown out. Being blind, Homer would have no idea how far down it was if he stepped on the window sill.
After about four days, she finally convinced a police officer to let her through the barricade. She had to walk up 31 flights of stairs carrying litter, water, and carriers.
"It was much easier coming down than going up," said Cooper with a laugh.
After her horrifying ordeal, she empathize with pet owners who are going through a disaster.
She contacted Canant Animal Hospital in Tuscaloosa to ask if she could raise money to help animals which have been displaced or injured in the storm.
"I could not believe someone from New York wanted to help," said Dr. Paul Bronold, a veterinarian who moved to Tuscaloosa a month ago from Nashville. "I had no idea who she was, but Gwen said she wanted to help raise money and write a story about what happened here."
Cooper wrote the story and immediately after posting ithttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/homers-odyssey/201104/when-you-help-animals-you-help-humans, pledges of donations began pouring in. She has raised more than $5,000 and plans on donating $2,500 toward the cause.
"I hope people will continue to donate," she said. "After being without my cats during 911, I know what it's like. Not knowing what has happened to your pets is awful and unthinkable. You don't know what has happened to them or whether they are injured or not. It is important for me to think of people in similar situations. I will never forget it and now the first thing I think about (during a disaster) are the pets."
She said she hasn't forgotten their owners, either, and other people affected by the storms that left thousands homeless and killed scores across several states. She has also donated to the Red Cross and urges others who want to donate to people causes to do so.
"When you help pets, you help humans," she said.
Bronold said he plans on using the money to replace medications and supplies he and his colleagues, Dr. Jimmy Canant and Dr. Lucy Roberts, have used in treating the dozens of animals they have taken in who came from storm-ravaged areas.
"We've been treating all the animals free because they ones who bring them in can't afford it because they've lost everything, or a Good Samaritan who has found the animal brings them in," said Bronold.
He also plans to use the money to purchase food for animals displaced by the storms. The clinic is also accepting donations of food and other pet supplies. Items may be brought to the clinic at 1100 Rice Valley Road. For more information or drop-off times, call 205-758-7295
In Connecticut, the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is working with a group of veterinarians there who are preparing to receive 150 shelter dogs that would otherwise be euthanized to make room for the storm dogs.
The veterinarians are volunteering their services and providing all vetting at no cost, said Rhonda Parker, chair of Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation.
"They will be sending two buses to Alabama very soon and are hoping to retrieve dogs from Lawrence and Colbert counties," said Parker. "They will also take dogs from the Tuscaloosa shelter if that shelter is overwhelmed. They are trying to identify the areas hit hardest by the storms.
The Animal Rescue Shelter of Lawrence County is coordinating the effort with the Connecticut veterinarians.
PetSmart Charities has dispatched seven Emergency Relief Waggin' vehicles and trained volunteers to Memphis where the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is operating emergency animal shelters and distributing supplies to disaster areas.
The Emergency Relief Waggin' is stocked with $60,000 worth of crucial supplies to aid pets and emergency rescue teams, including food, crates, carriers, kennels, bowls, leashes, fans, a generator and other items.
Conservative efforts show that 7,000 dogs, cats and horses have already been injured or displaced from their homes which have been affected by flooding or tornadoes throughout the South and Midwest, according to PetSmart spokesperson Jordan Shelton. For more information on PetSmart Charities visit www.PetSmartcharities.org/emergency-relief.