Puppy Dog Tales - Jan/Feb 2018
- story by LB Kovac
If you visit the Hancock County Animal Shelter, you’ll likely see this: kennels and stacks of crates, full of barking and mewing animals eagerly awaiting adoption. The shelter is regularly filled to capacity with stray, abandoned and surrendered cats, dogs, horses, bunnies and other animals.
But this is an incredibly uncommon sight in animal shelters in northeastern states or along the East Coast. There, shelters have wait lists - made months in advance - to adopt animals. Eager pet-parents pay a fee that’s equal to a car note, or more, to take a rescue home.
Here is a tale of supply and demand, of too many animals at one shelter, and too few at another; as well as the story of the work of a few transport rescue groups, staffed mostly by volunteers, that save these animals by taking them on a cross-country trip to their forever homes. Here is also proof that legislation can basically eliminate the sad practice of euthanasia and have a major impact on animal cruelty.
Puppy Dog Tales
Friends volunteer work ranges from spreading the word about adoptable pets on social media, to playing foster parent to new puppies, to simply playing a round of fetch with a bored dog.
Hines also drives the van.
“We transport them into areas where there are almost no ‘disposable animals,’” says Hines.
Once a month, she, as well as a few other dedicated volunteers with Friends, pack up a big blue Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van with adoptable dogs and cats for the first leg of a cross-country trip out of the South.
Their first stop: Madison, Mississippi. “Rescue groups from across the region converge there,” says Hines. The animals ride in crates in the back of the van, with Hines and other drivers making frequent stops to clean the van, get humans and pets a snack and allow everyone a moment to stretch their legs.
From there, Hines says, “[Animal Rescue Front, Inc.] drivers take them up North.” Some animals will go to shelters in Virginia or Massachusetts, but some might travel more than a thousand miles to shelters as far away as Maine. Friends coordinates similar trips with other transport groups too.
It’s a long trip, but well worth it, both for volunteers and their furry passengers.
Even with these strict requirements for adoption, many of the dogs and cats that make this trip north are adopted before they even arrive at their destination shelters.
Last year, Friends of the Animal Shelter was able to save more than 400 dogs and cats by transport.
While transportation is a partial solution for the Hancock County shelter’s overcrowding problem, it still costs money. Each pet needs to have necessary shots, and tests for heartworms and infections, in addition to being conditioned for crates, transportation and family life.
None of this is provided by the county or the state; it is all funded by private and corporate donations. “Thankfully, the community is supporting it,” says Hines.
And that support (you can donate online now by clicking here!) is gladly welcomed because the other option, euthanasia, is unthinkable to the volunteers, who have seen too many worthy dogs meet their untimely ends.
Many shelters, like Hancock County’s, resort to euthanasia at times because there simply aren’t the resources – food, money, volunteers, medication and space – needed to keep animals healthy until they are adopted.
But both transporting pets out of state and euthanasia are merely stop-gap measures.
“In the North, many places require a renewable license for any pet; to obtain it, you have to be current and up-to-date on vaccines, and the pet must be spayed or neutered,” Hines says.
“Puppy mills simply don’t exist in these states. To license a dog that’s not spayed or neutered, people have to meet official requirements to become certified dog breeders.”
An NPR piece featured on “Morning Edition” points out empty shelters are now common throughout New England states and the whole of the Northeast, thanks to government programs: “spay and neuter programs, combined with strong participation by rescue groups, have greatly reduced the number of unwanted dogs” in these areas.
Once sterilization became a normal part of the pet adoption and licensing process, there were fewer unwanted and abandoned animals in those states.
Volunteers believe that if Mississippi were to adopt similar laws, the number of “unwanted” animals in the area would likely eventually fall to numbers that the local shelters could manage. The need for pet transportation groups and putting down sick or injured animals would become the exception, rather than the rule.
“If the government has respect for the animals and strict penalties for animal cruelty, that’s eventually reflected in the attitudes of the residents," says Hines.
But until that happens, volunteers like Hines welcome the continued support of the community in getting these pets to the loving homes they deserve. Hitting the road, in this case, saves hundreds of lives each year.