Tornadoes traumatic for pets, pet owners: What they are doing following storms

A Harrison Twp. family who has spent the last four years fostering dogs in need of temporary shelter has needed help for their own animals in the month since a Memorial Day tornado destroyed their home.

It’s one example of the difficult situations families across the Miami Valley have faced involving pets in the aftermath of the 15 tornadoes that hit southwestern Ohio that night.

“This is not just a dog, it’s a member of the family,” said Dr. Jim Mathias of Tipp City Veterinary Hospital.

Tim and Beth Wentz have spent the last four years fostering dogs for Paw Patrol, a Dayton group that temporarily houses dogs as it seeks to place the animals in permanent homes.

“So we like to try and foster dogs that are close to being euthanized. So far, we’ve re-homed 15 or 16 dogs,” Tim Wentz said.

The night the tornado struck, Beth Wentz headed for the basement stairs with their children and six dogs, including their foster dog Joey, who has congestive heart failure.

“She had them all under the blankets. The tornado actually picked the house up and moved it 10 feet,” Tim Wentz said. “Our home is condemned now.”

He said a next-door neighbor came in worried about the dogs, “and amazingly none were hurt.”

“We put them all in a van and drove to the hotel. I actually slept in the van with them,” Tim Wentz said.

The Wentz family in total had 14 pets in their four-bedroom house and lost two pet turtles when the tornado hit. Their cat, Patrick, has been missing since the storm, but they are hopeful they will catch him.

“We have been trying to catch Patrick since the storm, but we’ve had no luck,” Tim Wentz said. “I just saw her last night at midnight up near the top of the house where the roof blew off.”

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As the Wentzes begin to make the next steps towards recovery, people have lended a hand and offered to give their beloved dogs a place to stay.

“Other people have really stepped up,” said Tim Wentz. “We have had two chihuahuas with us since the night of the storm, and we also have our small macaw and hedgehog. All of our other animals are being kept temporarily by good friends for us, but we can’t wait to get the whole gang back together again under one roof.”

When a tornado strikes, quick decisions are often needed, Mathias said. He talked about one family’s difficult decision to leave their dog in their house on Memorial Day when the tornadoes touched down.

“It’s gut wrenching when you just have minutes to make a decision and you don’t have any control over that,” Mathias said of the Miami County family and their dog Zeus. “They were scrambling trying to get out and Zeus decided ‘No, I’m going upstairs,’ … and they didn’t have time to go back and get him. After the storm was over, the house was gone and so was Zeus.”

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The family thought they had to deal with the loss of not only their home but also their pet. But two days later, Zeus showed back up in his neighborhood.

“The people were really shocked that the dog came back because their house was gone,” Mathias said. “He probably came and went to the house, but there’s no house, so he went to the neighbors and sat there and they discovered he’s back. I would’ve never even imagined him coming back. Who knows how far he went or how high he went, it’s just unknown.”

Luckily, Zeus only suffered a leg injury and is recovering.

“It was no longer life threatening because he wasn’t having any active bleeding, so we knew we were just dealing with a traumatic wound. We were able to get the wound taken care of and put him on some pain meds and sedatives, and he’s back to normal, like nothing ever happened to him,” said Mathias.

Zeus’ owners are grateful to have him back, Mathias said.

“That’s pretty traumatic, losing all of your possessions and your dog, too. It’s gratifying to see that reuinion and the joy they have,” he said.

Zeus is the only dog that Mathias has seen that was injured by the storms that night.

However, the trauma of the storms can have a large emotional impact on animals.

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“We’ve had some dogs come in that were just super traumatized because of the lightning and the thunder and the wind, and when you couple that with people doing odd things like bundling things up and running to the basement and acting all nervous, dogs are great emotional amplifiers,” Mathias said. “We usually put them on some Trazadone, a mild sedative, calming agent. Just for a couple days to let them get over that.”

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Pet adoption center SICSA offered the following tips for pet owners when their animals become stressed during a natural disaster and go missing:

1. Call out to your pet in a reassuring manner

2. Search their normal hiding spots

3. Put out tempting treats and extra water around the house

4. When you find them, don’t corner them or rush to pull them out

5. Note that cats are very good at hiding and might be able to hide for a couple of days before coming out of hiding

6. Have your pets microchipped and dogs licensed and then make sure that the information is updated as needed. If you have an emergency preparedness bag for your family, be sure to include a few days’ worth of food and water for your pets as well as any medicines that they are taking and will need to maintain their health and well-being.

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