The Shelter Trip
Once a year, a handful of volunteers take a trip down south to visit the shelters where our foster dogs come from. It’s called the “Annual Shelter Run”.
The shelter trippers, as we affectionately call them, meet all of the wonderful shelter employees and hand-select dogs for the anxiously awaiting foster homes up north. They leave in 2 vans packed with donated supplies and return 5 days later, those same vans now packed full of dogs. Mom dreams of making the trip herself one day, personally, I don’t think she could handle it.
I’d like to thank my very talented Auntie R, a first time shelter tripper, for sharing her intimate thoughts with us:
The drive to Kentucky took us 12 long hours through some crazy wind and rain. All to begin the saving process that we usually have a hand in, but so infrequently get the personal involvement that we will experience this week during our shelter visits. We have a list of families willing to foster these dogs. And so the task at hand is selecting.
I was shocked by how remote the locations of these shelters were; Off a service road, behind the transportation office, around the school, turn right at the sign so dirty you can’t read it, and all the way to the back of the parking lot in the smallest building around. One shelter was on the same lot as the town dump. It’s a small wonder how any dogs get adopted out. At all the shelters we are greeted by smiling, welcoming faces. They want so badly for us to take their dogs. Everyone is throwing in their 2 cents about each dog and their back-story.
“Hawk was found under a car. A man was standing guard with a rifle, claiming there was a vicious dog under the car. Dog warden bent down to get a look and Hank crawled out and licked her on the nose”.
I want to save them all. We see some real beauties, how are we to decide? Amy falls for Bonnie. Beth sees a Golden that soon gets picked up by his owners, a couple that can’t quite remember what gender their dog is. Adrienne eyeing up 2 lab pups but they are spoken for. Pam is looking at a Rottie pup. Lin is howling with a Bluetick.
I love the 2 Pittie pups but am drawn toward Dusty, the shy senior Beagle shaking on his bed and enter his cage to scratch his ears where I cry freely. His buddy was put to sleep the day before and he, literally, is next. I can’t even find it in me to take his picture because it makes me too sad. Claire brings him out into the yard and we start frantically making calls to our foster families up north. Then we get a message from Teri-she’ll take Dusty! If we hadn’t nabbed another dog all day, it still would have been a success to know that old boy is making the trip with us.
At the next shelter, Janie, a lab girl who is roaming the yard, greets us with open paws. We begin exploring the kennels. Less dogs than I expected-a sign they did well with rescue this week. Other shelters are bursting at the seams. Pam runs after a “super cute but a bit too big for her britches” poochie. Beth loves on an old mutt girl. Liz walks a perky eared girl around. Adrienne finds a Rottie/Doberman mix that is just a sweet goofy pup. We have committed to taking 3.
On we go.
At the next shelter we find the lot is scattered with trash and several open-air dog kennels that are overflowing with dogs. The building is in really poor condition with very few indoor runs, anywhere from 3 to 5 dogs in each. We had been “warned” by the manager before we arrived that they were a poor shelter with very little resources-they didn’t want us to be shocked. I know they are doing the best they can with what they have, but geez, this place is depressing.
I am determined to find my own foster dog here. Winnie, the chocolate “short and long” I saw online is the first dog I see and I take her for a walk. She will be my foster; I know this before I even slip the lead onto her neck. There is no outdoor yard so the dogs don’t have place to stretch their legs. They are all a bit hyper. This might just be the very first time they have been out of those kennels and attempted to be leash walked. We spend more time then we planned, taking out and testing as many dogs as we can; Coach, Autumn, Pumpkin, Trixie, Zena, Vanessa, Snowbelles, Jennie May, Hemi, Twila, Knight, Anastasia, Avery, Meagan, Paisley, Hemi, Sparkle, Kandy Korn, Cream Pi. We frantically begin temperament testing them all and emailing to the group back home to see who is willing to take who. Our location is so remote that our messages are not going through: time to panic. This shelter is just beginning to foster rescue relationships and they say that the dogs we have been pulling have made such a difference in their euthanasia rate. They used to have to put down dogs in house because there were too many to go back and forth to the vet. We confirm 7 rescues and will be eagerly awaiting emails on 3 more!
At another shelter we are greeted by Magnum, a little Doxie boy that will be coming back to NJ with us. (they knew what they were doing when they made sure he was the first thing we saw). We find some lovely dogs and wonderful company, easing the stress we were all carrying from the morning’s frenzied visit. After some temperament tests, Jen P’s heart is broken when she cannot take a Pittie girl who’s had a hard life, and we are struck by the harsh reality that these babies have seen more than they should in their short life. But we can’t save them all, even if we want to. We focus now on the 16 that will be making the trip to NJ and the possible contenders that we will find at the next shelter.
We discover a Chihuahua boy that has been signed over by his owners just that morning. They had hoped to breed their female and got a male-but the 2 didn’t get along and so he is tossed in the shelter. A Cairn terrier mix, new to the shelter, doesn’t pan out; another heartbroken volunteer. A handsome Bassett boy gets tested but not approved. But Tyson wins us all over with his freckled body, soulful eyes, and goofy ears. He rolls over for belly rubs and sits like such a gentleman. Another pooch we meet, Sheila, has also just been turned in that day. She is so scared by us, and other dogs, and doorways. We keep her out a long time and she warms up and begins to seek us out to ask for scratches. She actually begins to play with the other dogs and it is so nice to see that reservation melt from her little body. We are starting to run out of possible foster families but she will probably make the trip up to us when she gets some more socialization in a couple weeks. We confirm only 2 and have about 20 minutes to get them to the vet. Then we remember Lola. After a last minute splint second decision, 2 becomes 3 and they are off to be cleared for transport. We will make our way home with 23 dogs.
Off again home: we start loading the vans with dogs at 6:30am. The last dog gets put in the van shortly after 7. The ride home is easier, despite the stinkiness from the 23 doggy bodies- (some are getting car sick and others can’t “hold it” the length of the trip), because the sun is shining and we are bringing all these 4-legged friends home with us.
At 5:30pm, we pull into the driveway in Clinton. And the celebration begins. Ewws and ahhs over each pup that emerges from the van. Foster families find their dogs, leash them and take them out into the grass for their first steps on NJ soil. I’ve seen transports done before but this one is different. We shelter trippers had the responsibility of choosing dogs for willing foster families, and they took our word for it. I feel a nervous anticipation at the possibility that we may have chosen the wrong dog, that the foster will not be all the family hoped for. Instead we have other volunteers trying to bribe their way into taking pups home J We’ve done good, and I eagerly await news in the coming days of how these dogs will shed their old lives and begin new ones, with homes and toys, where food will never be uncertain and treats are an everyday occurrence. One by one the volunteers leave with their new fosters at the end of leashes. I load mine into the back of my Jeep and head on down the road to my house, where a warm bath, fresh bowl of kibble and a nylabone await her.