On the Road to Rescue
Kim Kehoe, Spot Magazine
Not much gets this person excited for a 4 a.m. alarm, except, possibly, catching a flight to a far-off vacation destination. AND, it turns out, I can also welcome that dreaded sound if it means boarding a Furry Freight Shelter Transport to give shelter animals the prospect of wonderful homes in the Northwest. Not only did I voluntarily wake at this hour, but to the surprise of this non-morning person, I even woke several times overnight in anticipation of the life-saving journey ahead!
An Oregon non-profit, Furry Freight Shelter Transport (FFST) saves lives by transporting dogs and cats from overcrowded shelters with very low adoption rates. Relocating adoptable pets to areas of high demand saves them from the risk of euthanasia, explains Founder and President Kim Wilken.
Before Wilken loads up her transport van, the partnering organization compiles a list of candidates. They’re all considered for factors such as health, temperament, demand in receiving area, and fitness for transport, as they have a long trip ahead before reaching their new homes. In the 24 hours before departure, the animals must also meet strict requirements for vaccinations and health checks to lower the prospect of disease transmission. Puppies too young for a full slate of vaccines go through an exacting infection-control transport protocol with rules such as “no paws touch the ground.”
Our journey starts at 6 a.m. on a chilly early-March morning. We’re leaving an area known for its moody weather and ever-present prospect for freezing fog or snow in the mountain passes. Conditions are unusually merciful on this day, and we make excellent time on our 11-hour road trip. That’s 11 hours of driving, not factoring in the requisite potty, caffeine, gas and stretch breaks. It’s a trek that lands us in rush-hour traffic as we get closer to our Central California destination. But the slower travel is rewarded with the sight of spring-blooming trees and green fields in every direction. And there’s sunshine! We’ve traveled from winter to spring in a day.
When we arrive, I’m anxious to meet the furry friends we’ll be saving. But it will have to wait. For tonight, it’s hotel check-in, quick eats and off to sleep for the rush that begins again at 4 a.m.
Not knowing what to expect on my first experience as a volunteer in this capacity, that morning I was struck by the sight of several very well-behaved dogs of various breeds, size, condition, age, and personality. Some were tethered in a row along the yard fence, all politely waiting in pre-dawn darkness for their rescue trip and the littles were inside their kennels. And there were PUPPIES!!! Three PUPPIES!! (You can hear my squeal, yes?)
The crew tended to a whirl of details: proper, complete paperwork for each pet; plastic collars named and numbered on the off chance of escape; water, food, treats, proper kennel placement; transport vehicle disease prevention protection; strict attention to air flow and temperature. It takes a precisely planned operation to safely relocate such precious cargo to a forever life.
It would be a travesty not to mention the obvious dedication, joy and love for each of these lucky dogs that the California shelter showed. The excitement on their faces when the transport van arrived, hugs and well-wishes for each dog as they transferred from shelter to van, some words of advice to the departing pups and kisses too. And these workers, too, willingly woke up at stupid-o-clock in the morning for the joy of this moment!
THE JOURNEY HOME
In all, we loaded up purebred dogs -- a young German Shepherd, a Bulldog named Daisy Doo insistent on playing a vocal “are we there yet?” game nearly the entire drive; a beautiful fluffy white dog so matted with fur it’d be hard to discern breed; and, I couldn’t possibly forget the bug-eyed, funny-eared terrier baby with loads of attention-seeking personality that totally melted my heart every time I turned around and met that adorable stare. I did what I always do when spending volunteer time with dogs: I gently remind them (or remind myself?) “I am NOT your person.” It isn’t easy.
It’s hard to describe what a midway potty stop for 15 dogs looks like. It’s an adventure in itself, and since we’d reversed directions and begun the exit from spring back to winter, we’d make the stop in a cold rain. We laid tarps for the “no-paws-on-the-ground” puppies, cleaned kennels, replaced water, walked dogs (and -- shhhh! -- managed to sneak in a few cuddles, kisses, and pictures.) An example of the precise planning and coordination involved: thankfully, a nearby volunteer met us at an out-of-the-way location to help us manage this impressive potty break.
Soon it was time for the chilly, rain-soaked humans to hit the road for a final stretch of the ride - now with wet dog smells, chatty bulldog, staring funny-eyed puppy, wonderful snoring dogs and the second loop of hubby’s i-Pod tunes. It’s a moving and heart-warming experience, though not for those without fortitude for sitting long periods of time!
Surprisingly arriving at the receiving shelters’ rally point just 36 hours after we left Central Oregon, we were again witness to the joy and excitement of a team of volunteers and workers excited for the beginning of a new life for 15 wonderful pets. After a short 8 days, each of these precious fur-babies found their forever homes all thanks to the hard work and dedication of FFST!
(Visit SpotMagazine.net for more photos of the precious cargo and their journey home. Follow @FurryFreightTransport on Facebook for more life-saving stories and how to help.)