Sunday, April 06, 2008

My Rescue Transport Debut

On Thursday I was doing some repair work in the kennel at Pets Alive when Kerry, one of the directors walked in and handed me a list of dogs with photos from a kill shelter in the south. They call Pets Alive sometimes when they fill up with dogs - some of their workers try as hard as possible to get the dogs out so they don't have to be euthanized. Kerry explained that the dogs on this list were out of time and their usual transport service was unavailable. They had priced out other transporters who wanted at least $100 per dog and there were at least 25 dogs in this transport, which was out of the budget. Would I consider driving a rental van about a thousand miles each way down and back? Oh, and there was a second stop - another meetup in a southern city 150 miles away. Time was of the essence - the dogs had to be spoken for by Friday and out by Sunday. I was a little surprised, to say the least, and I probably looked like I was waiting for a punchline - which I was, and it didn't come. She was serious. I said I'd see what I could do and started making phone calls.

I quickly got a return phone call - two days off, no problem. (Thanks to my employers at Young Frankenstein and my very understanding boss, Simon!) My wonderful roommate, Jen, agreed to watch the dogs for a while, and I was ready to go. I dropped by the office before I left for the day and it was abuzz with activity - Matt, the other director, had secured a rental van at a discount from the local Enterprise, and arrangements were being secured for a hotel and to let the sending organizations know we were on the way.

We needed a second driver, because this was going to have to be quick. The plan was to drive down in a day, stay over at a local hotel, load up the dogs and get back to Pets Alive as quickly as possible. The van was going to be so packed that stopping for walking/feeding was going to be nearly impossible, so once we started rolling with dogs in the van we had to keep moving. Janet, the Pets Alive medical liaison/vet tech agreed to go as well. Janet was totally up for it and it was wonderful to have someone in the van with medical experience - you never know what you'll come across with these dogs.

I went back home, packed a bag and turned up the next morning at the sanctuary. We picked up the van and loaded it with as many crates and kennels as we could possibly pack into it. We added some supplies, Janet's med kit, a few tools, a GPS and off we went, rolling out of Pets Alive at 12:30pm. Driving down was pretty uneventful - a few gas stops and supply stops - and we arrived in a small southern city a thousand miles away at around 2am. We checked into the local Super 8 and got a few hours of sleep before we were in the van and rolling again at 8:15am.

I didn't know what to expect at the small county shelter when we pulled up - especially when the sign on the door read "Closed for Euthanizing". The shelter is usually closed weekends and people were coming in just to meet us. I had envisioned a house of horrors, but the workers who came out to meet us were warm and seemed to actually care for their charges, addressing them by name and talking to them affectionately as they led them out to be loaded into the van. I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised - they did call us so they would not have to kill the dogs, after all. One of the workers' kids proudly told us about the five dogs they had at home, all rescues from the shelter. The people who work there seem to be stuck in a bad situation and they're trying to save as many dogs as they can. I'm sure that working for the county and trying to change things can't be easy.

As we began loading the van, a local guy pulled up... on horseback. Chuck had ridden 40 minutes on Princess for a equine medical clinic taking place across the street. Unfortunately, he had showed up on the wrong day. He had some questions about what we were doing and stuck around, occasionally helping us load up the van. The dogs were generally in good shape and the load went quickly.

We were nearly done when a car pulled into the parking lot, and a woman got out with a dog. A friend didn't want the dog and so had given it to this woman to find something to do with. After huddling and making sure that no one would come looking for their lost pet, she signed a release and released an adorable, friendly, well-behaved little Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix over to us and we added her to the van load. We get lots of dogs from this particular shelter that are not very much in demand in their area but we can adopt out very quickly, especially small breeds, and this girl will fly out into a great new home.

All the dogs were loaded at this point, so there was only one thing left to do...

Chuck gave Janet a brief ride on Princess, and we were off to the next stop in a city about 150 miles away.

Our ride over was largely uneventful and the dogs were pretty well behaved. We had bought earplugs just in case, but we ended up not needing them. Periodically a dog would bark for a while, then they'd bark themselves out after a few minutes and everyone would settle back down. It's a good thing they got along because some of them had to share crates in order for everyone to fit. The smell, on the other hand, was something else. Transport tends to be stressful for dogs, and stressed dogs tend to vomit... or poop... or pee... or all three. For the first hour, the smell was nauseating. After the second hour I was snacking on peanuts and drinking energy drinks. After that I didn't even notice - even had an egg sandwich from a truck stop at around 3 in the morning.

For the second stop we were to meet two independent rescuers at a gas station. These folks identify and pull adoptable dogs from kill shelters and try to get them to better situations. They had some trouble along the way which delayed them, so we waited in the gas station parking lot and they got there around 2:30pm. We loaded up their dogs without incident including one not on our paperwork, a recent addition - a shy, affectionate lab mix and her very young puppies, covered in lice and ticks. Finally the truck was loaded. Before we could get home we needed to stop at a pet shop for some supplies, as one of the young pups wasn't looking so good. We got what we needed and started off for home as Janet administered subcutaneous fluids using the van's visor for an IV bottle hanger and fed the little puppy with an eyedropper. It was 4pm when we pulled out of the parking lot for home, with about 900 miles to go and 30 dogs loaded into the back of our full-size cargo van.

It was important that we get home as quickly as we could and stop as little as possible, so we combined our food/gas/dog check stops - they got ice cubes to chew on at the halfway point for hydration, and the puppies got a little food and the nursing mom a full meal. Things were pretty uneventful until somewhere around northern Virginia, where our blower failed and we lost the defroster. That wouldn't be so bad except that it was pouring rain, as it had been since we left New York, and it was incredibly humid in the truck. We would wipe the windshield with paper towels and it would immediately begin to fog up again. After a few false stops (damnit, if you're going to call yourself a truckstop, you have to be 24 hours!) and some scary near-blind driving, we pulled into a Flying J and bought anti-fog glass fluid and a DC fan to keep the air moving that we threw on the dash and pressed on.

I'd been driving most of the day with Janet taking over for a few short nap breaks, but around 3am I began to crash hard and Janet took the last leg of the trip. We finally pulled into Pets Alive on Sunday morning at 6:30am, having been driving since 8:15 the previous morning. 22 hours on the road that day, over a thousand miles driven in that time, 2 pickups in 2 different cities in 2 different states, and 30 dogs that would otherwise have been killed safe in NY. A group of staffers was there to help unload the truck, settle the new dogs in, and get them food and water. They will be in medical quarantine for two weeks where they will be observed and then they will be put up for adoption.

And that's where I've been for the past few days.

If you support this sort of work, please consider making a donation to Pets Alive in ANY amount - even small amounts help. There is no way that adoption fees can ever cover an operation like this, especially because Pets Alive makes a commitment that ensures that animals that need medical care get all the care that they need, and every animal that is adopted out is spayed/neutered and microchipped. Your donation is fully tax deductible. I'm a volunteer, so none of your money goes to me! Please also support your local no kill shelter any way you can and if you're thinking about getting a pet, go there!

"The bottom line is that as long as people believe that killing homeless pets is one of those necessary evils that can never be stopped, then it will never be stopped."
-Michael Mountain

Please help us stop it today.


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