(ANIMAL RESCUE) An unconventional network of animal lovers—truckers, pilots, animal rescue groups, and a mirage of other volunteers—has recently emerged with an admirable mission aiming to provide rescued animals with permanent homes. These volunteers transport rescued dogs, cats, bunnies, ferrets and occasionally a monitor lizard or pot-bellied pig to loving homes, no matter how far away. Read on to learn more about this noble initiative. — Global Animal
Sean Kiel, a 46-year-old truck driver from Oregon, is pictured with Johnny 5, the first dog he transported to safety. "He's a really cool dog," Kiel said. "I felt really, really wonderful knowing that I helped somebody else." Photo Credit: Sean Kiel

TODAY.com, Laura T. Coffey

Sean Kiel is a no-nonsense guy with a gruff voice and a tough demeanor. A truck driver for 30 years, he describes himself as an “alpha male” who tends to keep his emotions “hidden pretty well.”

But get him talking about the curly white Bichon Frise he helped rescue from a dark life in a puppy mill, and all of that changes.

“Here I am, a big ol’ tough truck driver, and I’m sitting here choking up right now,” said Kiel, 46, who just transported the grateful fluff ball to a woman in California who was eager to give the dog a good home. “She was so happy to get that dog — just absolutely happy. It was so touching to see.”

Kiel is a new recruit to an informal and ever-growing network of animal lovers who are transporting rescued dogs, cats, bunnies, ferrets and even the occasional monitor lizard or pot-bellied pig to loving homes, even if those homes are located hundreds of miles away. This unofficial Underground Railroad is powered by truckers, pilots, animal rescue groups and volunteers who provide “layover homes” to all kinds of creatures as they journey to new and happier lives.

Their work happens on their own dime and takes plenty of time, but these volunteers are determined to keep animals moving in the face of seemingly intractable problems: animal overpopulation, and downright abuse, neglect and abandonment of animals by their owners. According to the American Humane Association, about 3.7 million stray and unwanted animals are put to sleep in U.S. shelters each year.

“Shelters nationwide are filled with animals that are going to be killed,” said Sue Wiese, 68, a former truck driver from Joshua, Texas. “You just have to do something.”

In September 2005, Wiese founded Operation Roger, an organization made up of regional and long-haul truckers who transport pets in the cabs of their trucks as they deliver freight all across the country. She got the effort started after Hurricane Katrina left an estimated 250,000 pets stranded and struggling to survive.

“My heart was just breaking from all the stories about the pets,” Wiese recalled. “I was driving down the road and I was praying, ‘Lord, what can I do? I’m just a truck driver.’ And then I heard one word: Transport.”

Thanks to the abundance of animal lovers on the Internet, Wiese’s calling wasn’t all that hard to fulfill. An animal shelter or rescue organization might not be able to adopt out all its dogs and cats to homes locally — but what if nice people in other states read about those animals online and want to adopt them? Then, basically, those fortunate furry friends just need a ride.

Since 2005, Operation Roger has given nearly 600 animals a lift. The organization has detailed requirements and checks in place to make sure its drivers aren’t transporting animals to or from for-profit breeders, puppy mills or show circuits. Instead, the emphasis is on rescued animals who need permanent homes, and pets who have an opportunity to be reunited with their owners. For instance, if a lost pet turns up hundreds of miles away and is identified with a microchip, that pet could get a comfy ride home in the cab of a truck.

Robert Montagna, 56, a truck driver and Operation Roger volunteer who is based in Michigan, has witnessed some emotional reunions between pets and their owners. In one instance a waitress in Colorado had been separated from her chocolate Labrador retriever for several months in the wake of a divorce.

“When they saw each other, they just ran together toward each other like it was in a movie,” Montagna said. “She cried and cried when she saw that dog.”

In other cases, Montagna has fallen so in love with the pooches he’s transported that he’s had a hard time saying goodbye to them. He still speaks wistfully of Milo, a Jack Russell terrier who liked to curl up and sleep on Montagna’s chest when he napped in his truck.

“I just love doing this,” Montagna said. “I always say that if I won a big lottery, I’d buy a big RV and I’d call Sue up and say, ‘Where’s the dog at? I’ll deliver it.’ And after that, I’d call her and say, ‘OK, where’s the next dog at?’ I’d just keep doing this all over the country.”

Sometimes the logistics involved with getting a pet transported exactly where it needs to go by truck can be tricky. That’s when pilots fill a huge need. Since it was founded in 2008, Pilots N Paws — a South Carolina-based organization that connects shelters and animal rescue organizations with more than 2,100 pilots and plane owners — has transported thousands of pets to safety in small airplanes.

“People have just really pulled together over this,” said co-founder Debi Boies. “It’s actually a great combination. Pilots are everyday working people who love to fly — it’s a passion. If they’re going to spend the money to do what they love to do, why not make a difference while they’re doing it? Why not save a life? And they do.”

Occasionally volunteer pilots will team up with volunteer truck drivers to coordinate a pet transport. In other cases, when the weather turns bad and pilots know families are eagerly awaiting special animal deliveries, they’ll spend their own money to rent cars and make sure the deliveries happen. “You can’t imagine what these pilots are willing to do,” Boies said. “Some of them even end up adopting the animals they transported.”

Some organizations work with truckers — not by proving transport, but by helping to connect truck drivers with animals they’d like to adopt.

Susanne Spirit, a country and blues singer based in Southern California, has started an energetic, music-filled, on-site adoption program for the hundreds of truck drivers who visit the TravelCenters of America truck stop in Ontario, Calif. The Musical Truckin’ Dogs Adoption Program founded by Spirit does not facilitate transport for animals, but helps match truckers with rescue pets of their own. The truckers who adopt dogs through Spirit’s program are set up with everything they need for seven to 10 consecutive days: water, bowls, collars, harnesses, leashes, blankets, a kennel if needed, toys, treats and food. She’s even arranged to have a mobile groomer and a mobile veterinarian in the parking lot. Over the course of 11 months, Spirit and a number of volunteers have managed to find rolling, loving homes for more than 900 dogs.

“These truck drivers can’t just stop at Wal-Mart or Petco — they’re hauling freight,” Spirit said. “So with those care packages, all they have to worry about is the dog. We don’t make a dime off of any of the dogs, and I don’t know how many truckers have put together care packages. Everything is donated. …

“The truckers are so grateful to have these dogs. I knew truckers wanted dogs, and they’re killing so many dogs — we just had to do this.”

More Today.com: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/45227747/ns/today-good_news/

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi
    I am a animal lover…dogs especially. There is a dog by the name of Suzy-Q that I want to rescue. The problem is she is in Robbins Tenneesse and I am in North Bend Oregon. Her foster parent is Teresa Young. We have tried every other avenue in trying to get Suzy-Q from TN to OR. I am already excited and in love with the little girl and she would have a couple of sisters to rump and play with lots of love. This little doggie survived almost a month in the Appalachian Mountains on her own…a little survivor. She was skin and bones with some psych issues…she was found by Teresa Young who nursed her back to health and is trying for a while to find her a home. I want to give her that home. I have two rescue dogs now about her size and breed. I would love Suzy-Q to complete my little brood.
    Please help us find a way home for Suzie-Q. We are both on fixed incomes…but really want this doggie in OR with me.
    Thank You so much.
    Siadus Rish

  2. A little dog showed up at my home covered in fleas, ticks,cuts and scratches. I took care of those issues. She was so hungry, ribs and spine were very easily felt. She had her tail tucked and cowered afraid of everything. I tried several names to see if she would respond, she responded to Suzy Q. Suzy has been with me 1 week. I have checked the newspaper, checked with local “kill” shelters, placed an ad on the radio, facebook and contacted several other shelters in other states via e-mail. No one has reported her lost. It looks as though she was recently nursing pups. She has had a haircut and toenails trimmed most likely in the past month. I live in the Appalachian Mountains in TN. I usually have at least 2 dogs a year “dropped off” close to the property. The dogs have always been hunting dogs that evidently didn’t hunt well enough. Suzy is definitely not a hunting dog. She weighs about 8 lbs., wants to ride in a car, is used to being indoors and sleeping with a person in bed. She is a very good watch dog and even joined my dog chasing a deer. Suzy doesn’t want to leave my side. She is still trying to “wolf” food and doesn’t seem to know when she’s had enough. Suzy is housebroken, responds correctly to several commands and brings a toy or ball to me when she wants to play. She has also gathered every dog and cat toy in my home and placed them under my bed. I would keep her if I could, the problem is that I already have 2 rescue animals, a cat and dog. My cat loves Suzy and they chase each other through the house. My dog does not want another dog here, she is very jealous and selfish and even tries to get Suzy in a position so she can growl and snap at her. My dog does this with dog treats and food by acting as though she doesn’t want it and Suzy can’t resist food due to being so hungry so she falls for it everytime. I am afraid my dog will actually hurt her, my dog outweighs Suzy by at least 60 lbs.

    The good news is this, there is a lady in Oregon that wants her. We just need help getting her there. I am on a fixed income an cannot afford to fly her out there. Any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated. Suzy will love her just as much as she loves me, she just needs a forever home. Sincerely, Teresa Young