Shelter dogs travel in style to find their new homes

It’s usually a sad story when dogs arrive at an animal shelter. But the mood is more like Christmas morning as staff at the Washington Animal Rescue League wait for the Rescue Waggin’ truck to open its doors.

Jodie Martin

WASHINGTON — It’s usually a sad story when dogs arrive at an animal shelter. But the mood is more like Christmas morning as staff at the Washington Animal Rescue League wait for the Rescue Waggin’ truck to open its doors.

The people and the animals have never met, but some greet like old friends. A basset shoots out to lick a face. Jodie Martin holds a small black puppy, one of the almost 40 dogs that she and the driver picked up that morning from two shelters in Ohio, and kisses it on the head before she hands it over.

“These are beautiful dogs,” said a staff member at the Washington, D.C., shelter.

The Rescue Waggin’ program of PetSmart Charities has moved more than 29,000 dogs since 2004 from communities with high euthanasia rates to shelters with high adoption rates.

Their four trucks transport dogs from 53 shelters in 24 states, including a new route that serves Mississippi, Louisiana, southern Tennessee and Arkansas.

The pups travel in style: Specially designed trucks have air conditioning, piped-in music and video cameras so the dogs can be monitored in transit.

The policy is not to transport animals more than 10 hours at a stretch, so the organization has just built a halfway kennel for overnight breaks to make longer trips a possibility.

When the dogs are led into their temporary home at the Washington Animal Rescue League, there’s a full service hospital, a behaviour department and a beautiful cageless shelter facility where a soothing fountain cascades over glass ceilings that let in natural light.

“We work on their physical, mental and social rehabilitation and transition them to new homes,” says the league’s director, Dr. Gary Weitzman.

If you live in a big city with a shelter like this one, it might be hard to understand how different the situation is in communities where the pups come from.

Mark Southwick says that when he started volunteering at the Parke-Vermillion County, Indiana, Humane Society in 2004, the euthanasia rate was 56 per cent, including many perfectly adoptable animals, because they simply did not have the resources to either keep them or find them homes.

“Our shelter is situated in a very rural setting — we are literally in the middle of a cornfield,” he says.

The shelter budget allows only enough paid staff to feed and clean. Volunteers like Southwick do all the adoption placement work. Volunteer efforts such as posting animals on Petfinder.com and transporting small groups of puppies to other shelters helped get the euthanasia rate down to 15-20 per cent, Southwick says. Now, with Rescue Waggin’, it’s under two per cent.

Moving animals in search of adoptive homes is not a new idea, but the scale of this program is unprecedented. Even a shelter like the Washington Animal Rescue League, which has long transported animals on its own, is enthusiastic about participating.

Weitzman says that it’s a big help not to have to bear all of the costs, and the Rescue Waggin’ trucks are state of the art.

When he was on a committee to come up with guidelines for animal transportation, he says, “we found that we couldn’t do better. They’re really doing it right.”

The program also does more than move animals around, with support services to help shelters improve the situation closer to home.

“If all we did was transport, that would not be the answer,” said Marlene Walsh, director of Rescue Waggin’ operator Humane Strategies.

Southwick’s shelter has received grants from PetSmart Charities for facilities improvement and training to prevent illness. Most important, they are now able to offer low-cost spay and neuter services one day per week to the community and shelter animals.

For the shelters, the effects go far beyond the visible ones.

“The thing that has changed so much is the more positive outlook,” Southwick says.

Now that they no longer euthanize so many animals, volunteering and donations are up and staff turnover is at an all-time low, with positive results for all the animals, whether they leave on the Rescue Waggin’ or not.

Says Southwick, “I see hope for these animals that I never saw before.”

Just Posted

PHOTO: Rainbow Block Party at Red Deer’s West Park

The Trans and Non-Binary Aid Society hosted a Rainbow Block Party at… Continue reading

Blood donations needed in Central Alberta: Canadian Blood Services

357 donors are needed before Aug. 26 at the Red Deer clinic

WATCH: Annual Family Picnic at Central Spray and Play

Blue Grass Sod Farms Ltd. held the Annual Family Picnic at the… Continue reading

Photos: Smoky conditions in Red Deer

Red Deer and area is experiencing high risk air quality.See related: Red… Continue reading

Committee to decide how millions in Humboldt Broncos donations are split

SASKATOON — Lawyers for the families of some of those who died… Continue reading

Boy, 11, dies after being struck by payloader on southern Alberta ranch

BOW ISLAND, Alta. — A boy has died after an accident on… Continue reading

Liberals look at creating federal holiday to mark legacy of residential schools

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government wants to establish a holiday to… Continue reading

Thousands of police officers expected at regimental funeral in Fredericton

FREDERICTON — Thousands of police officers and first responders from across the… Continue reading

B.C. declares state of emergency over wildfires

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government has declared a provincial state of… Continue reading

As service refusals make headlines, experts say businesses usually in the wrong

Two Canadian businesses that recently made headlines for refusing customers have learned… Continue reading

Irregular asylum claims increased in July after two months of decline

OTTAWA — The number of irregular border crossers in Canada went up… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month