A string of devastating tornadoes swept the South on Wednesday, killing hundreds. Tuscaloosa, Alabama was one of the hardest-hit areas.

You undoubtedly have read, or will read, about the unimaginable human tragedy wrought by the storm. I have already made a donation to the Red Cross, and encourage anybody reading this to do so as well.

But my mission in this column is to talk about human/pet relationships. So today I turn my attention to the toll taken on the animals of Tuscaloosa, and throughout the South.

Most of the local veterinary practices in Tuscaloosa have suffered enough damage to be forced to close.  One remains open, however--run by Dr. Jimmy Canant and Dr. Paul Bronold.

They have been working literally around the clock--without rest, without breaks, and, most painfully, with barely enough resources--to treat the cats and dogs injured by the tornadoes. Some of the injured animals are brought in by their owners, whose own vets' offices are non-operational at the moment. But most of the animals being brought in have been separated from their human companions. Nobody knows to whom they "belong," or who will care for them as they recover, or who will pay for their treatment. Dr. Canant and Dr. Bronold are treating all of them, regardless.

They are doing what all of us would pray somebody would do for our own "fur kids" if a sudden disaster were to separate us from them, leaving us unable to care for them and tend to their injuries. It is because of the efforts of humanitarians like Dr. Canant and Dr. Bronold that I was reunited with my own cats after they were trapped in my apartment five blocks from Ground Zero in the days following September 11th.

It is a generosity of spirit that I will never forget.

Canant Veterinary Hospital is in desperate need of any support we can provide. They need donations of food and other practical necessities. Most desperately, they need money for medicine and supplies-and money to share with local animal shelters who are also struggling with super-human efforts to make sure that no dog or cat who can be saved is left behind.

I have created

a ChipIn page, which you can find here:

http://canantvets.chipin.com/canant-veterinary-hospital

Funds raised will be donated directly to Canant Veterinary and other local animal service organizations.

You can also send food or other donations directly Canant Veterinary Hospital at this address:

Canant Veterinary Hospital
1100 Rice Valley Road North
Tuscaloosa, AL 35406

I am often asked, in the wake of a disaster such as this--when I ask my readers and Homer's friends to think of the animals, as I'm doing now--why we should care about animal suffering. Isn't human suffering a more important consideration at a time like this?

As if the two were mutually exclusive. As if one couldn't help humans and animals.

But, putting that aside for the moment, I will say here what I have believed all my life--that when you help animals, you do help humans. No community is benefited by having large populations of starving, injured, terrified dogs and cats roaming the streets to fend for themselves. The people who volunteer in shelters and who rescue animals from the streets are the unsung heroes who--every single day--make their communities a better place to live. And at no time are their efforts more vital or more heroic than in the wake of a disaster as large as this one.

And the ASPCA volunteers who reunited me with my cats after September 11th didn't just help my cats. They helped me, and I (last time I checked, anyway) am a human. At the time, I didn't know if I even had a home left. As far as I knew, I had lost everything I had in the world. And if it weren't for animal rescue volunteers, I might have lost three of the most precious things in my life.

I would imagine there are many humans throughout the South who feel today exactly as I did then.

So when people ask you why they should worry abo

ut helping animals at a time like this, you can tell them that the problem with the world isn't too many people helping animals. The problem with the world is too many people doing nothing to help anybody at all.

And I can almost guarantee that the person asking the question won't have had a single altruistic thought since St. Swithin's Day. Criticizing what others do to help isn't the same thing as being helpful yourself. Too many people seem to forget this.

When you help animals, you help humans. So, if you can, please help Doctors Canant and Bronold, and all the other humans struggling so mightily to do what they can for the most defenseless victims of Wednesday's storms.

God bless you!

About the Author

Gwen Cooper

Gwen Cooper is a novelist and author of the memoir Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life With a Blind Wonder Cat.

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Helping rescue the cats and dogs injured by Wednesday's tornadoes