LINCOLN PARK — A team from PAWS Chicago is heading 800 miles southwest this weekend to save 75 animals that were left homeless by the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla.
More than 350 people have already volunteered to help with the pet rescue effort, which will begin Thursday night when a medical team from Chicago flies to Oklahoma to prep for a bright and early start Friday.
An eight-vehicle caravan is set to leave Chicago at 2 p.m. Friday and arrive in Oklahoma by 5 a.m. Saturday.
Organizers expect the team will be headed back with the 75 homeless animals by 8 p.m. and will arrive in Chicago at PAWS Chicago's Rescue and Recovery Center in Lincoln Park, 1997 N. Clybourn Ave.
"We are very excited. Over the next three days we will be saving the lives of 75 animals from Oklahoma City," said Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS.
The team from PAWS will be assisting Oklahoma City Animal Care and Control, which has taken in more than 150 additional pets in the wake of the tornado. They are overcapacity and struggling to provide for the animals in their care.
Some of the pets' owners realized the devastation to their homes was too severe to keep their pets, while others that will be rescued were strays.
"We are anticipating that we are going to see sick and injured animals," Michalek said.
Once those pets are back in Chicago, the PAWS team will bathe the animals, give them some food and water and on Sunday, neuter and spay them.
By Monday, they hope to have the pets up for adoption.
"If families were thinking about getting a pet, this is absolutely a great time to save a life," Michalek said.
Information on the 75 cats and dogs along with their pictures will be posted on the PAWS website on Saturday.
This isn't the first time PAWS has stepped in to help animals in peril following a natural disaster.
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the team headed south and saved more than 240 pets.
In 2008, when the Mississippi River and other waterways in Iowa flooded, PAWS was there to help.
And, most recently in April, PAWS sent seven pallets of food to Marseilles, Ill., to help feed hungry animals during the floods.
The animals that will be brought back to PAWS from Oklahoma are pets that have been voluntarily turned over to the city, because there is a law that gives pet owners time to reunite with their animals before they can be given up for adoption.
"One of the lessons learned from Katrina is they are going to give the animals that were displaced 30 days to be reunited with [their] owner," Michalek said. "We absolutely want them reuniting with the owners."