WATCH: Tornado survivors at the Tupelo-Lee Humane Shelter in Mississippi

IFAW disaster team leader Denise Bash surveys the destruction at Tupelo, Mississippi.Tupelo, Mississippi, a city best known as the birthplace of legendary Elvis Presley is no stranger to tornados.

As a year-old baby, the King of Rock and Roll survived one of the deadliest tornados in US history which reportedly killed more than 230 people.

The EF 3 tornado that carved a path of destruction in the city on Monday lasted a terrifying 20 minutes where it apparently ‘hopped’ from one neighborhood to the other. 

It is absolutely shocking to see the level of destruction and learn that the community suffered a lone weather-related human casualty. Things could have been much worse, but there is still a lot of work ahead for the resilient community of Tupelo to get back on their feet.

At the time of the storm, Donna Jarrell, Executive Director the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society (TLHS) was with her team performing an emergency operation on a Boston terrier named ‘Lulu’. Lulu was probably used as breeder dog and had terrible complications with multiple cysts in her uterus.

As the tornado sirens went off, the team had a choice, head to the storm shelter or stay and finish Lulu’s operation. The thought of leaving her never crossed their minds, and armed with flashlights in case of a power-loss, they finished operating on her. Now, just a handful of days after the tornado, Lulu is back to her energetic and happy self, completely unfazed.

‘Mama’ a German shepherd mix stray that was brought in with three puppies less than a month old, somehow survived the ordeal and is now being taken care of at the shelter. She is in a bad shape, emaciated, suffering from mange, but now getting the care she deserves.

‘Mama’ is just one of 184 other survival stories transpiring at The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society animal shelter.

IFAW responder Christine Yacco cares for ‘Mama’.

By now, you’ve realized that the TLHS is a one busy shelter. On average 7-10 animals, mostly dogs, arrive every day and this was before the storm even hit. The sign on the door says “Open from 10:00-6:00” but in reality it’s more like “6:00 to 10:00” for the overwhelmed shelter staff now dealing with the extra burden of a tornado aftermath. 

In despair, the TLHS reached out to IFAW and we rushed in to help with a team of emergency sheltering responders and disaster experts including team members from our ERN member Animal Lifeline, focused on relieving the pressure.

In the next three days, more than 80 dogs will find homes at different partner shelters in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and New Jersey.

We have our Rescue Site supported animal rescue truck and trailer down here for the move. These dogs all came to the shelter from the streets or owner surrender over the last year. They have been at TLHS throughout the mandatory holding period, are all spayed or neutered, up-to-date on vaccinations, and ready to find forever homes. This will provide the TLHS with much-needed relief so they can continue serving the communities’ animals.

Responding to disasters of this scale, takes a whole team of dedicated groups and individuals. From local volunteers from IFAW ERN member Mississippi Animal Rescue Team (MART) to our trusted collaborator the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund who has provided support for every major disaster IFAW has responded to around the world.

From everyone here in Tupelo, both two and four-legged, a big thank-you to you, our loyal IFAW supporters who help animals in their greatest time of need. 


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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy