Where I've been: Best Friends' Pup My Ride
Beginning on Nov 11 I participated in a Best Friends rescue called Pup My Ride, which we've done several times this year. Pup My Ride goes into the Midwest and pulls mostly discarded breeder dogs from puppy mills and arranges their safe transport to the Northeast, where they are very adoptable. These are dogs of all ages, mostly on the small side but usually with some surprises thrown in as well - like the beautiful and friendly pair of Mastiffs that turned up! This was my first experience with Pup My Ride and I was overjoyed to be asked to go along as the animal care supervisor - one of my dogs, Ginger, is a former puppy mill breeder and the cause is near and dear to my heart.
Co-worker Mary Richie and I met early on the morning of the 11th to begin the long drive from Kanab, UT to the staging area in a horse barn in the Midwest. I believe Mary's title here at Dogtown is receptionist but that doesn't do justice to her talents; and on this operation she is simply the Person Who Knows Everything and Keeps Track Of Everything. In a chaotic environment where dogs are constantly moving around and situations change on a moment by moment basis, she tracks every piece of information and can tell you anything about any dog at any time, as well as the closest place to buy an extension cord and where to obtain 6 bundles of newspaper at 1am.
Our noble steed for the long journey was to be a mid-90s Ford F350 Turbo Diesel Dually towing a cargo trailer loaded with all the supplies we would need for the staging area - soup to nuts, crates to poop scoopers. The rig really brings out my inner Tim Allen, I want to grunt every time I climb into the driver's seat. The coolest thing for the dedicated long-distance driver is the 75 gallon aux fuel tank built into the bed; between that and the two stock tanks it holds a total of 115 gallons of diesel for your long distance driving pleasure. The ride to the staging area took two days and was relatively uneventful, with Mary and I alternating driving and sleeping.
We arrived in the Midwest on the 13th at our host facility, a horse barn - which turned out to be PERFECT for this sort of operation! The 23 individual stalls each had their own door, so dogs could be let out to play in the stall areas or allowed to run around while cleaning was done without fear of escape - great! We met a few co-workers there including our fearless leader Kelli Ohrtman some dedicated Pup My Ride volunteers and began setting up the stalls to house dogs - including isolation areas and areas for puppies.
And oh, the volunteers... these are people who came here to do this for us and with us, some of whom traveled great distances to join us and stayed in hotels while on-site at their own expense. They all worked 13+ hour days without complaint, doing the dirtiest work you can imagine - scrubbing kennels and bowls, doing all the hands-on care. They were the lifeblood of the operation and some simply amazing, selfless, caring people.
Over the next two days, dogs came in and were dropped off by the vanload. Each dog needed to be given a collar tagged with an individual ID number and a crate location, so that we could keep track of every dog and make sure they were all taken care of. We also began the process of pairing dogs for transport, which I would continue right up until the transport truck loaded - the truck had 96 travel crates and we expected to ship 160 dogs on it, so it was important to pair dogs up as quickly as possible to see who got along with whom.
On rescues like this you never know what will turn up, and we were really lucky on this one; there were no medical emergencies - thank god! As the volunteers took dogs through intake and carried them back to their kennels they acted as the first screeners for possible issues, alerting us to things that needed to be looked at when our veterinarian came in to do physical exams on every dog prior to transport. Though there were no emergencies, many of the dogs displayed signs of an abominable lack of care that is unfortunately all too typical of puppy mills: painful burrs and matts in long haired dogs that had never seen a grooming, nails grown into foot pads, obvious flea infestation and ear problems - and oh, the smell. There is a smell unique to dogs that have just been released from the mill that will stay with you forever; it's not just the excretions they have lived all their lives lying in in too-small cages but also of untreated abscesses, of infected ears. It is the smell of cruelty, made bearable by knowing that these dogs were about to have such a vast improvement in their lives.
The two intake days went quickly, with constant activity - cleaning, cleaning, cleaning; checking on concerns and socializing with the dogs. Behaviorally they were also a great group - by and large shy and undersocialized, but also curious and friendly. We saw huge changes in some of them over just a few short days as they began to realize that everything would be different now.
Many of the rescued breeder dogs I have met on this Pup My Ride transport for Best Friends and other mill dog rescues act like this: when you open their crates and invite them out, they don't quite know what to do. No one's ever done that before - they've always been grabbed, usually not very nicely, for a veterinary procedure or to be thrown in with another dog for breeding. They slink for a few minutes and stay low to the ground, their body language speaking volumes about their uncertainty even as they taste freedom for the first time.
As sad as this can sometimes be to witness, it is also hopeful: nearly every dog like this that has the curiosity to come out and give it a try will make a full recovery and enjoy and revel in their freedom.
After two days of intake we had our medical day, where our incredible on-site vet did physical examinations and innoculations on 196 dogs in an 8 hour period, with just one 10 minute break. She was fast but also thorough, identifying what dogs needed further treatment and/or investigation. Volunteers lined up with dogs to keep a steady flow coming to her, which also gave ample chance to visit with dogs while they waited! As always, during the examinations crates were being cleaned, water changed, newspaper laid and dogs visited with - and in the evening, once the checks were done, the daily feeding. The barn was also surrounded by grassy areas that were great for walking the larger dogs - particularly Louie the Basset Hound, who always had a line of people who wanted to take him out!
On the morning of the fourth day the main transport truck arrived and we began to load it with dogs beginning at 6am - it contained 96 kennels which volunteers set up with absorbent pads and ice chips in buckets, then we loaded all the dogs. The load went very smoothly and the main transport truck was on the road by 9am, followed by a chase van that had some special cases in it destined for other rescues. Here's a little video tour of the inside of the main transport truck:
With most of the dogs safely on the road, our hard-working volunteers stayed behind to clean and break down every kennel and load the cargo van with all of the rescue supplies. That also went quickly and Mary and I began the drive back to Kanab at noon after loading 8 dogs into our truck, mostly special medical cases that would return with us to Best Friends for care. We decided to try sleeping in shifts and driving continuously the approximately 27 hours back to the sanctuary, and that worked out great! We stopped every few hours for food and dog care, then immediately got back on the road with our charges. The Big Red Truck arrived back in Kanab on-schedule and Mary and I both went home for a long nap!
And that's where I've been!
More information on Best Friends' Puppies Aren't Products campaign, including information on the Pup My Ride program.
Lots more pictures!
A few videos.