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Pet rescue transports give hope, worry to animal shelters

Shelter Dogs

KINSTON, N.C. — Every day, hundreds of animals are taken in trucks, vans and cars from overcrowded Southern shelters, where euthanasia rates sometimes reach 70%, to states in the North, where puppies and kittens are not as plentiful.

It's a labor of love for those whose main goal is getting the animals off death row, but it can also have a dark side ranging from unscrupulous operators looking to make a quick buck to well-meaning incompetence.

Animal advocates say the transports are here to stay, thanks to a supply and demand imbalance between the South and the North, where spay and neuter programs are far more widespread. These advocates want to create standards to ensure pets aren't taken from overburdened shelters to an even worse fate.

"If you could take a truckload of dogs and cats up to Connecticut, and somebody is going to pay you $100 a dog, you're going to get as many animals as you can on that truck," said Kimberly Alboum, director of the North Carolina chapter of the Humane Society of the United States.

"It's quite a market at this point, and it's really creating problems as far as unscrupulous transporters and unscrupulous rescuers," she said.

The worst-case scenario for Alboum is a situation like the one described by police in North Carolina's Rockingham County last October. Sheriff's deputies charged Thomas and Amber Adkins with misdemeanor animal cruelty after finding around 90 dogs on the couple's property.

Shelter puppy gets vaccinated

Police said the Adkinses had taken many of the animals from a North Carolina shelter and were planning to bring them to New York. Some dogs were dead and others were eating their bodies, according to police.

Neither Adkins returned calls for this story.

"It's scary to me," Alboum said. "You're always leery of folks coming and pulling multiple animals from your shelter if you don't know where they're going."

Ernie Wilkinson agrees. The director of Johnston County Animal Services has boosted community support for the shelter, partly through adoption fairs at churches and events at schools.

But Wilkinson is wary of groups who call offering to take puppies up North.

"Anyone can say they're a rescue group," he says.

Wilkinson only deals with nonprofit groups registered with the Internal Revenue Service, and he also requires rescuers to provide a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian and undergo background checks.

The temptation for struggling shelters, though, is considerable.

Shelter Dogs

Last year, at least 305,222 dogs and cats were dropped off at North Carolina shelters, and 214,475 were euthanized. The cost of handling all those animals is nearly $30 million. The real numbers are likely higher, because only 73 of 100 counties had reported their 2010 data to state government as of February.

On a recent day, the Lenoir County Animal Shelter in Kinston looked like a scene from "101 Dalmatians." There were puppies from a number of breeds wrestling each other in crates stacked three on the floor, puppies in the lobby, puppies under a desk, puppies behind a closet door.

"We fit 'em in where we can," director Kim Petrusch said, raising her voice to be heard over the yipping.

The small shelter gets roughly 3,600 animals a year. Although nearly 1,300 were adopted last year, putting down the rest is emotionally taxing for workers who took the job because they love pets.

Rescue groups in the North say they also have to check transporters' credentials, because the homework helps ensure families adopt healthy, happy animals.

"In rescues, there are a lot of frantic calls of, 'Oh my God, these two dogs in this particular shelter are going to die, we need to find homes now,'" said Joanna Reck, director of Andover, Mass.-based Great Dog Rescue New England, which has brought roughly 3,000 dogs from the South in eight years.

"But if you rush, sometimes a dog will come up here and it's sick, or it doesn't have the right temperament," she said.

Shelter Cats

Online message boards castigate drivers and rescue groups for reasons ranging from transporting sick animals to accepting ones that haven't been spayed or neutered. Even some well-meaning transporters fail to take proper precautions.

It's not uncommon for dogs to run off when novices pull over to let them stretch their legs, according to Mary Blake of Charlotte, who runs a volunteer transport group called Movin' On Up.

"I don't want to use the word 'paranoid,' but you can't be too careful when you're moving these pups and kitties," said Blake, whose route usually goes from Atlanta to New York City.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals plans to have standards and guidelines on transports by the end of the year, covering issues from veterinary care to making sure animals aren't being driven hundreds of miles when adoptive homes can be found nearby.

"A single dog in a car is probably manageable, but anything more than that you need to know what you're doing," President Ed Sayres said.

Animal lovers clamor to adopt Oklahoma puppy that survived euthanasia attempt
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-- Tom Breen, Associated Press

1st photo: Dogs in a kennel at the Lenoir County Animal Shelter in Kinston, N.C., on March 4. Credit: Gerry Broome / Associated Press

2nd photo: Assistant shelter manager Kriston Gurganious prepares to vaccinate a puppy at the Lenoir County Animal Shelter. Credit: Gerry Broome / Associated Press

3rd photo: Dogs in kennels at the  shelter. Credit: Gerry Broome / Associated Press

4th photo: Cats in the shelter's reception area. Credit: Gerry Broome / Associated Press

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This article describes some of the issues, but not all. The real questions involve what happens to the animal once s/he gets "transported"? Any reputable rescue will screen potential adopters, ask questions about their history of pet ownership, and try to determine if they understand what they need to about owning an animal. Lots of young people "want" to adopt a dog or cat but have never given one thought to how they will provide for that animal for the next ten or fifteen years. Similarly, someone in Massachusetts may "want" to adopt a Chihuahua, but if they're really so scarce there, does that person have any knowledge and understanding of the needs of that breed? Reputable, long-standing rescues also do home checks to make sure the house and yard are safe. Imagine transporting hundreds of tiny dogs to a strange (cold) state and never checking one house to make sure its fences don't have holes big enough for a tiny dog to escape?

In addition, a reputable rescue will take back an animal if an adoption doesn't work out. But here you have Rescue A pulling dogs they don't know well from shelters for Rescue B (or Rescues B through Q) and shipping those dogs off immediately to get placed in homes that may or may not work out. But what happens to the dog, in a strange state, if no one wants him or her, or if the adoption doesn't work out? Who will be there for that dog?

A lot of people think loving animals and being upset that they get killed at shelters qualifies them to call themselves rescuers. But getting a dog or cat out of a shelter is just the first small step. You not only have to get to know the animal, you have to understand and have experience in rescue to understand that what you mean by "committing" to an animal is not the same as what many people mean. You need to take responsibility for finding out what someone's true level of commitment is before you place that animal and let them become bonded to someone who may very well dump them if they starting dating someone with allergies, if they can't be bothered to find a pet-friendly rental (or even find out if the place they currently live allows animals) or the animal gets sick or old.

No matter how hard you try, bad things are going to happen sometimes to innocent animals. But if you take the responsibility for pulling an animal from a shelter, you need to be prepared to do your level best to ensure that you have made that animal's life better. You can't just herd them on a truck and hope for the best, without any plan for how to protect them if things don't work out as you'd hoped. A true rescuer leaves every placement hoping desperately for the best, but with a safety net in place just in case. If you're just putting dogs on trucks and patting yourself on the back as the truck rolls away you have dangerously NO idea of what may happen to those dogs. You might as well have put them in a barrel and tossed them over Niagara Falls. They may survive, they may not, they may be placed with someone who loves them, but they may be placed with someone who beats them, who lets them run under a car, or who gets tired of them and dumps them in a kill shelter. If you haven't foreseen these possibilities and put protections in place to try to avoid them then you haven't saved those animals, you've just delayed their deaths.

Rescue isn't about feeling good about yourself and congratulating yourself, it's hard and scary and stressful. And that's if it's done as right as it can be in a world that is very, VERY dangerous for animals.

If shelters would assist in transport operations then this would not occur. Killing of unwanted dogs and cats is an easy fixand a punishment to the unwanted animals not the ignorance of owners.
Do shelters educate adoptprs about what will occur if they take the animal and return it or lose it and it is returend to the shelter? NO!!! Cats and dogs need to be spayed or neutured before they are adopted. Some shelter employees make too much money, thus taking from the very animals they are suppose to care for and require assistance. Shelters need to communicate to other states to find out how they can better assist in unwanted animals being homed and rehomed-NOT EUTHANIZED!!!! Stop taking the easy way out and "HELP OUT" instead....


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