2011-11-02 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The best laid plans of mice, men and shelter dog transports can go awry, especially when a freak October nor’easter wallops the route with snow and fallen trees. Twenty-two pooch passengers, all West Virginia dogs who escaped euthanasia in crowded shelters or lives at the ends of heavy chains, are safe now. It just took a little longer to get them to their new guardians.

Saturday, Mother Nature interrupted, but did not stop, a transport that otherwise would have gone off like clockwork. This network of shelters, rescuers and drivers is experienced and flexible. Smart phones are like magic wands, whisking vehicles around obstacles as they arise. Emails and texts provide instant weather updates, alternate routes, checks on drivers’ whereabouts, and even offers warm places to spend the night or money to pay for petfriendly hotel rooms.

The last stop on an October 29 orchestrated journey was supposed to be Massachusetts. When the mega-storm closed I-78 near Allentown, PA, the trip stalled midway. Half of the rescued dogs spent the night at pajama parties awaiting the final legs of their passage to “happily ever after.”


Porter and Pearl arriving at Last Hope Porter and Pearl arriving at Last Hope Thanks to a dedicated and determined WV/KY volunteer network, rural dogs that once had no future are about to begin a better life; but for one evening, a dozen had unscheduled sleepovers. Some snoozed inside an accommodating NJ shelter while others, like Pearl and Porter, now Last Hope dogs, were guests at the home of a PA rescuer. Good thing. We, too, turned around on the closed Bronx River Parkway enroute to White Plains to get them, and CT rescuers were dealt worse conditions.

The tough economy has added to the Southern surplus of sociable dogs, readily embraced by responsible homes in the NE. There are various transports that deliver shelter dogs north across the Mason–Dixon Line. Several have specially equipped vans that load at a central location and then make scheduled drop-offs to rescues along the way. Before I could bring Pia the Pointer from WV to Last Hope last month, I applied for membership in a different type of transport group-one that runs like a precision relay team.

Coordination and cooperation are crucial to successful multi-leg and multi-vehicle transports. Think: “synchronized” driving combined with dog juggling. It takes detailed planning to bring a gang of death due dogs to safe havens. Transport run sheets read like intricate blueprints.

This loose knit 154 member group doesn’t have a name. Because transports pivot around Trish McDonald’s logistics, internal emails are dubbed “Trish Trans.” She’s coordinated the database from her Pennyslvania home since 2005. WV/KY shelters post dogs in need in hopes that rescues in the NE will respond to their pleas. Their Petfinder site gives them a home base. Meanwhile volunteer drivers fill in slots for upcoming runs.

Presently, about 20 shelters send dogs (and some cats) to 35 receiving rescues. All must be approved before becoming part of this network. “These shelters have to have it together in terms of sending healthy dogs with reliable temperaments and complete paperwork, while the receiving shelters must be able to provide proper care and have thorough adoption screening policies,” Trish explains.

The members support each other in other ways. They cross-post each others desperate dogs, and establish Chip-In accounts for special needs medical cases. Today, they set up a dialogue trying to determine how each shelter could obtain a free microchip scanner because they have such limited resources.

A carefully worded email blast can move mountains. In 2007, a WV shelter heating system exploded while it was being replaced. Workers scrambled to release the dogs outdoors but there was no fence. One email from the network recruited locals to gather the fleeing pups. Soon after 65 dogs, including six that were burned, were loaded onto a rescue van; and $30,000 in donations poured in to rebuild the shelter.

The “Trish Trans” network (for lack of an official name) is always looking for more drivers and rescues. Contact ICanDrive@yahoogroups.com and ask for a drivers’ questionnaire or a rescue application. This WV & KY Animal Rescue also has an open Facebook Group page where the public is invited to help and spread the word about specific WV/KY dogs and cats in need.

Pearl and Porter, Last Hope’s newest dogs, come from Franklin, WV via the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter (PAWS) which doesn’t have a brick and mortar facility. PAWS takes in stray and unwanted dogs and cats from their sheriff ’s department and the public that would have otherwise have gone to a kill shelter in the next county. Animals there are only held five days before being put down. PAWS has few foster homes. When an approved rescue pulls one of their dogs/cats, they can then save another that was bound for the pound.

PAWS does outreach intervention to improve the quality of life for WV dogs. Carol Hutchison (originally from NJ) is a vet tech and PAWS volunteer. She visits people with backyard, neglected dogs, and offers to neuter and vet them at no charge. “Pearl,” a seven month old puppy, only 13 pounds, was attached to a heavy chain. Her mom is their Beagle, and her dad is the Chihuahua next door. Imagine chaining such a tiny pup.

“Porter”, a 15 month old Cattle Dog/Lab mix is most likely from a litter handed out at a restaurant last year. He showed up stray in Pearl’s yard and was added to the chained collection. Carol was able to get the family to surrender both love-bug dogs. They became her fortunate fosters.

The snow storm hit WV earlier than expected. On a clear day the ride to the first rendezvous spot -Hagerstown, MD- takes seven hours round trip. Carol left at 6 a.m. for the treacherous trek over the mountain with her two canine treasures…

Thirty six hours later Pearl and Porter arrived at Last Hope Wantagh as our “Howloween” costume celebration was about to begin. They waltzed right in without noticing the cat dressed as Princess Fiona or the dog disguised as a skeleton. They were too busy kissing everyone, as if the party were thrown just for them.

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