How do you spend your weekends? If you’re like most of us, you maybe sleep in, catch up on some chores around the house, possibly go out for dinner.
For Laura Herbst-Agee and Chris Agee of Lower Windsor Township, weekends are a bit different. The couple spends most weekends helping to transport dogs from high-kill shelters to rescue groups, no-kill shelters and foster homes.
Their first transport was through the State College area in November, and the couple thought it would be maybe a one-time thing, or possibly they’d do it once a month. They now transport almost every weekend and sometimes do a transport on Saturday and another on Sunday. They recently bought a used small bus on eBay so they can transport more dogs.
On March 3, the couple did their longest transport so far, going 206 miles west to New Stanton to pick up seven dogs, then driving back east to Harrisburg to hand off two of the dogs to another transporter and then south to Baltimore, where the rest of the dogs were being picked up by volunteers with Dogs XL. The total mileage for the day was 528 miles. There were 15 volunteer drivers involved in transporting the seven dogs.
Each leg of a transport is usually an hour to an hour-and-a-half; for the March 3 transport the couple drove three legs.
The two dogs getting off the bus in Harrisburg were then going to Lancaster, where they would be handed off to yet another transporter, who would drive them to La Mancha Animal Rescue in Unionville, near Coatesville.
Dogs XL of Baltimore is not a shelter, it’s a network of people. Often, the dogs being transported already have foster homes waiting for them upon arrival.
“Sometimes, Laura said, “there’s a houseful of people waiting for these dogs when we get there.”
The March 3 transport was expected to include 12 dogs, the most dogs they had ever transported, but two of the dogs were adopted before the transport and three dogs hadn’t been seen by a veterinarian and had to wait for a later transport.
For a while, it looked like two more of the dogs wouldn’t make the trip, because they were coming from Kentucky, where there had been several tornadoes. But those dogs made the trip after all, making a total of seven dogs on the March 3 transport.
Laura is in charge of the paperwork. She finds possible transports online, then she and Chris decide which ones to take. Laura has a binder containing the run sheet for the transport, contact information for the other drivers and information about each dog: where they’re coming from, where they’re going to and descriptions of each dog. She puts the papers in plastic sleeves in the binder and uses dry-erase markers to write notes on them, such as estimated arrival times, etc., so she can wipe them off and make changes as needed.
Laura also stays in contact with the other drivers throughout the trip, updating estimated times of arrival as needed and receiving text messages about individual dogs’ quirks or special needs. She regularly checks in with the transport coordinator, as well.
Chris does the driving, and said he regrets not checking to see if the bus had cruise control or a radio before clicking “buy it” on eBay. It has neither.
The bus had been used to transport people in wheelchairs, so most of the seats had already been removed, which saved the couple some work.
“I don’t know if we’d be able to get any more than 12 dog crates in the bus without removing at least one more seat,” Laura said.
Laura said sometimes the receiving rescue will offer to reimburse the cost of gas, or partial cost of gas, if the transporter has gas receipts, but usually the transporters pay for it themselves. The bus gets about 15 mpg and uses diesel fuel, which costs a bit more. It’s front-wheel drive, which is a change because the couple is accustomed to driving all-wheel-drive vehicles.
“The first transport we drove after we bought the bus a few weeks ago, it snowed,” said Laura.
Mileage is deductible as a charitable donation if the transporter keeps accurate logs of dates and mileage. Laura said she keeps copies of run sheets to back up mileage claims.
Laura said the biggest chore is after the transport, when all crates must be sanitized and the blankets and towels must be washed with bleach.
THUNDER and TOPAZ, 4-month-old male Great Pyrenees mix puppies, are part of a litter of 17 pups. They were coming from Mercer County Humane Society in Harrodsburg, Ky., and headed to La Mancha Animal Rescue in Unionville, near Coatesville.
RUSTY is a 1-year-old heeler/shepherd mix weighing about 45 pounds. He was coming from Pulaski, Ky., and headed to Dogs XL in Baltimore.
NORMAN is a 2- or 3-year-old Rottweiler/shepherd mix weighing 70 pounds. He was coming from Huntington, W.Va. and headed to Dogs XL.
WENDALL is a 7- or 8-month-old shepherd/chow mix weighing 45 pounds. He was coming from Huntington, W.Va. and headed to Dogs XL.
BIGFOOT, a 5-month-old basset hound mix weighing 25 pounds, was coming from Huntington, W.Va. and headed to Dogs XL.
JERSEY is a male hound mix weighing 70 pounds. He was coming from Huntington, W.Va. and headed to Dogs XL.
ABOUT THE COUPLE
Laura and Chris have been married for 13 years. They met while serving in the military, when both were stationed in Korea. She was a meteorologist in the Air Force, and he served in the Army.
They have five dogs of their own, two of which came from a rural county shelter in Ohio (Whitney, a beagle mix, and Jasmine “Jazzy,” a yellow Labrador mix).
“We drove eight hours to get this little dog, and ended up coming home with two dogs,” Laura said.
Whitney was the little dog they originally planned to adopt, and Jazzy was in a cage with a sign reading “Dog will bite.”
Laura talked to Jazzy, put her hand up to the cage and Jazzy licked her hand. She asked to see Jazzy out of the cage, and “She fell over into my lap and put up her belly for belly rubs,” Laura said. “My husband said, ‘We can’t put her back in that kennel,’ so she came home with us, too.”
Misty, a 15-year-old black Labrador mix, has been with them since she was a puppy.
Amber, a 10-year-old tricolor collie has been living with them for a year. She became homeless at 9 years old because her family had financial difficulties.
Sabre, a black Labrador mix, was 4 years old in March.
“We got Sabre, our ‘middle child,’ from a rescue group when she was a puppy,” Laura said. “She was part of a litter that was dumped in the woods.”
Sabre, the first dog they got as a couple, is so named because both Laura and Christopher served in the military, and crossed sabres is a symbol of a cavalry unit.
Pet transports are a lesson in choreography.
Christine Holmes of Windsor arranges transports through her Tails of Hope Facebook page. She summarized the process as follows:
Then someone offers to adopt, shelter or foster one or more of the animals if someone can help to get the animals to their shelter, rescue or foster home.
Most shelters or animal control organizations won’t release animals to individuals, only to legitimate rescue groups, and sometimes only to a local rescue group. If an individual sees an animal they’d like to adopt or foster, they need to find a rescue group to pull the animal from the shelter and work out the details with the rescue group.
Once the animal is pulled from the kill shelter, he or she will be placed in a temporary foster home for a few days, or sometimes a week or so, to wait for a transport to be arranged and for the animal to be seen by a veterinarian.
Then a transport coordinator arranges for transport from the high-kill shelter or temporary foster home to a qualified foster home or rescue, which can sometimes mean transporting through several states.
Each “leg” of the transport is usually not more than an hour or two. Sometimes, if nobody volunteers for a leg of the transport, the people driving the legs before and after that leg will offer to extend their parts of the transport by a bit, so they can meet in the middle.
The meeting places, where the animals are transferred from one vehicle to another, are most often well-lit areas, such as restaurants, hotels and gas stations. Although sometimes the transport coordinator picks the meeting places, most of the time the drivers decide where to meet, since they’re more familiar with the area.
The transporters usually pay for their own gas, although if they can’t afford it, some will set up a PayPal account where people can donate funds for gas.
On an average transport, there are three or four dogs per car; when transporting cats or very small dogs, it’s possible to take more.
It’s recommended that transporters have crates for dogs and carriers for the cats and smallest dogs. Some transporters tether the dogs by their leashes to something in the car, but others believe that practice can result in injury to the dog’s neck in sudden stops or turns.
- Supplies needed on a transport include cleaning supplies, paper towels, spray to clean up “accidents,” hand sanitizer, plastic bags for potty cleanup, dog treats, bottled water, bowls, leashes and slip-leads, and towels and blankets for the crates.
- Puppies who haven’t had their final vaccine boosters are listed as NPG (no paws on ground), which means their feet cannot touch soil because there’s a danger they could contract a virus. For potty breaks, you should place them on puppy pads or a blanket you can wash later. To allow them to stretch their legs a bit after a long drive, you can place them on a vinyl tablecloth or shower curtain on the ground or let them out of the crate in the car while it’s parked.
- Get the paperwork first, then the dogs. Most dogs will be traveling with health certificates and other paperwork. It’s easy to forget to get the paperwork from the driver of the previous leg of the transport if you’re preoccupied with exercising and loading the dogs.
WANT TO HELP?
Christine Holmes of Windsor coordinates pet transports through her Facebook page, Tails of Hope. She also often drives transports on weekends.
Holmes offers the following information for those who would like to help with transports:
- Transport lists will include a contact person, with phone number and email address.
- You’ll need to supply your full name, hometown and/or zip code, which “leg” of the transport you’re volunteering for, your phone number and cell number; vehicle make, model, color and tags for identification purposes, and email address, preferred meeting places and a reference if you haven’t driven for that transport group before.
- Your information will only be shared with other drivers on the transport.
- Bring crates or carriers, depending on the size of the pet, and leashes for dogs, unless transport list says the equipment will be supplied.
- To find a pet transport group online, search for “pet transports” on Yahoo message boards, or search on Facebook or Google.