Lee Asher and his dogs take a walk around Joshua Tree National Park in California. Asher is on a cross-country road trip to promote dog adoption. Photo by: Luke Barton

Dog lover is on a cross-country rescue mission

When you go on vacation, do you take your pet with you?

Lee Asher does. All six of them.

Lillie, Butters, Cali, Stella, Molly and Bo-Bo are Asher’s six rescue dogs. Since February he’s been traveling cross-country with them in a 30-foot RV to promote dog adoption. His friend Luke Barton is along for the ride, taking photos and videos.

So far, they have been to 28 states and Washington, D.C., with 21 to go. Hawaii, alas, is not on the agenda (it’s a long way to dog paddle). The group hopes to finish in November or December, and there are plans for a repeat trip next year.

Asher’s goal was to get one pet adopted in each state they visited. As of mid-June, he has averaged three per state, with 83 dogs (and one cat) finding “forever homes.”

Every year, about 3.3 million dogs and a similar number of cats enter U.S. animal shelters; about half get adopted, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Asher, who’s 29 and lives in Los Angeles, says each of his dogs has its own personality. Stella, the most recent addition, moans a “wow” sound to get attention. Bo-Bo, a chocolate Lab, likes licking faces. Golden retriever Cali paws at you until you pet her. Butters and Molly, the tiniest of the crew, want to cuddle in your lap. And Lillie, a Saint Bernard who weighs 100 pounds, enjoys sitting on people.

Asher and Barton, 31, quit their jobs and are using their savings and donations to pay for their adventure. The hardest part, Asher says, is lack of space: “I’m hitting my head on something every day on this RV.”

On long drives, the dogs sleep in the back, but occasionally Stella or Bo-Bo will sit in the passenger seat. The dogs get regular pit stops and so do the guys, since the RV’s bathroom is filled with dog food and can’t be used. At night, they park the RV in a large lot, and the dogs claim their spots on the bunk or the pullout couch. “We’re such a family,” Asher says, laughing.

In April, the caravan visited the Washington area. While parked near the White House, security officers approached. Asher thought they would be told to move. Instead, the officers asked for pictures with the dogs. “It was so cool,” he says.

Less cool was an incident in New Jersey when they drove under a low bridge and ripped part of the roof off the RV. It was raining and everyone got soaked. The wet-dog smell, Asher recalls, was “not fun.”

Asher says he was bullied as a kid and had a hard time making friends.

“I loved animals. All I ever wanted to do was to be surrounded by animals,” he says. He volunteered at his local animal shelter. Being around animals made him happy and helped him make friends.

His advice to kids: “Learn to build compassion for all living things.”

The dogs have taught Asher to chill. “When we’re in bad traffic or we have a problem with the RV, my dogs aren’t worried about it, so why would I worry? … A dog has a fresh start every day; the past is the past. I decided to live my life that way.”

With all the shelters he’s visited this year, has he been tempted to add a seventh dog to his family? No, not yet, he says.

Kerry Tousignant/Special to the Washington Post

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