Animal Rescue Transports Give Hope One Leg At A Time

posted November 15th, 2011 by
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By Anna Holton-Dean

In 2010, over 11,000 animals were processed through the Tulsa Animal Welfare Shelter. Of those animals, 2,222 were adopted, and 1,205 went to rescue groups. With just one shelter’s sobering numbers in mind – let alone national statistics – it’s obvious to see why volunteers like Tanya Kittrell and Neil Golden are willing to dedicate countless hours of their time, coordinating pet rescue transports.

Freedomtraintransports.com best describes the process of pet rescue transports: free, volunteer based transportation designed to rescue animals from high-kill shelters and abusive/neglectful situations. Animals (usually dogs and cats, but possibly other pets) are transported to screened and approved rescues or forever homes.
The transportation is provided by a large network of volunteers, donating their time, money and hearts in order to see the animals survive and thrive.

Several years ago, Golden became co-moderator for On the Road Again (OTRA) transport, which was founded in 2004, and is one of the many transport groups within Yahoo! Groups. Transport groups like OTRA provide a forum for communicating transport needs and connecting people who want to help. Each coordinator can post requests for drivers to fill relay legs along a particular route. Today, OTRA has over 2,000 members across the country.

Rescue transports, like those provided by OTRA, are necessary for two primary reasons. First, shelters and rescue organizations do not have the money budgeted for transportation, so transporters fill in the gap, Golden says. Secondly, Kittrell, an independent volunteer, adds there is an estimated 80 percent of transports coming from the South and going to rescues and homes in the North and Northeast. “Because of the sheer number of puppy mills, the local Southern rescues simply don’t have the room to accommodate the need,” she says. “With the economy the way it is, many have had to close their doors.

The Northern rescues are these animals’ only hope, and it takes an organized transport to get them there. “Some rescue/adopters opt for a paid transport to escape the extra work involved with volunteer transports, but most rescues can’t afford to pay $100 to $150 per animal. These volunteer transports are their only option. There is a tremendous need for responsible coordinators, and I felt this was the best way I could give,” she says. Golden also saw the tremendous benefit of rescue transports after his initial run. A lifelong rescuer always looking for a way to help, he quickly discovered transporting would become a permanent part of his life.

“Several years ago, I received an e-mail from a young lady in Texas who was coordinating a transport for some homeless Pit Bull dogs to Minneapolis,” he says. “The dogs were otherwise going to be destroyed, but they had a rescue offer in an area of the country where they would be easily adopted. I volunteered to drive a relay leg from Perry, Okla., to Wichita, Kan., and afterward was hooked on the idea of saving the lives of innocent animals simply by changing their geographic locations.” Golden reiterates Kittrell’s sentiments that many animals can be rescued by finding homes in the Northern states.

Transports in which he coordinates/ volunteers usually originate in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina with destination points in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

For coordinators, like Golden and Kittrell, there is significant commitment involved. Kittrell says first the coordinator must gather all necessary information from both the sending and receiving parties, map out the route and calculate each leg (an average of 75 to 80 miles in length) from point A to point B, input all of the information in a self-formatted “run sheet,” e-mail the sheet to all various contacts and networking media (Yahoo! Groups, Facebook, etc.) in order to recruit volunteer drivers for each leg (including overnight legs). And that’s only the beginning.

Next, she gathers all the volunteers’ information (name, e-mail, phone number, vehicle description) and inputs it into a separate working copy of the run sheet that will be sent only to the involved parties once all legs are filled. Then, she must monitor the transport once it is in progress. Each driver calls in after hand-off to the next driver.

“Most transports take place on the weekends, so many a Friday night ends up sleepless and spent begging for people to volunteer,” Kittrell says. “On rare occasions, I may have to make some phone calls to find a volunteer for one pesky leg that’s holding up the entire transport.

When it comes down to it, there are really only two kinds of coordinators – those who are responsible and do it right and those who do not. After some hard lessons, I’m proud to say that I am one of the responsible ones.” Despite the time commitment and responsibility of coordinating runs, Kittrell says she felt the need to fill the role which is greatly lacking in volunteers compared to the number willing to serve as drivers. “I seemed to fall into the role pretty naturally,” she says, “and I was good at it so I kept at it, slowly improving with each new transport. The problem is there’s an overwhelming number of rescued animals in need of transport yet very few coordinators to assist.”

For those interested in volunteering as a coordinator, there is much to consider, and Kittrell cautions it isn’t for the faint of heart. “Other than the reward of knowing the animals made it safely to their destination and will live much better lives, there are few positives,” she says. “It’s extremely time consuming, highly stressful and intense, and it’s very easy to become overwhelmed with the load because of the high demand. Burn out is very common, especially if they consistently take on too many runs each weekend. I eventually had to limit myself to two.

“A good coordinator needs to be organized, somewhat anal retentive with perhaps a touch of OCD, driven, and have the ability to take charge and make quick decisions. If they’ve ever been labeled a control freak, they’d likely make an excellent coordinator.” Also, Kittrell says potential coordinators, after knowing the pros and cons, would need to be mentored for several weeks before being released to coordinate runs. Once the coordinator has been trained, one small, motivating factor he or she can look forward to is earning the respect and trust of those who volunteer for transports. “Once you have that and word spreads, volunteers seem to come out of the woodwork,” she says.

Because there are those with impure motives, rather than the animals’ best interest, most transport groups screen and check references of all potential members before allowing them to join.
If someone is not able to assist homeless pets in other ways, such as fostering, donating money or coordinating, then driving transport legs is a good option, requiring a typical time commitment of three hours during a given weekend.

The only expense involved is gas money. “The nice thing about it is that it’s selfregulating, and you have the pleasure of meeting a lot of like-minded volunteers and all different kinds of dogs, ” Kittrell says. “It’s highly rewarding because without them, these transports would not be possible and more shelter animals would lose their lives.” The first step toward volunteering is getting connected to a Yahoo! Internet Group, such as OTRA (groups.yahoo.
com/group/OnTheRoadAgain/). Golden encourages animal lovers and potential volunteers to get involved for one simple reason – the animals. “When humans domesticated animals thousands of years ago, we made a deal with them,” he says. “We wanted them to be a part of our lives as companions and servants.

Animals have kept their promise, but for the most part, people have not lived up to their responsibility. Assisting animals in need is a way for me to make good on the human side of the deal.”

One Response to “Animal Rescue Transports Give Hope One Leg At A Time”

  1. Sophie Hill says:

    Hello!
    I have been involved with dog/cat rescue for about 9years. I was a volunteer & approved foster home with Lake Norman Animal Rescue & Lincoln County, NC Humane Society. I would pull from the shelters, and foster dogs. Although I can no longer provide foster care, I can volunteer transport in NC, about a 50-70 mile radius from the Charlotte area. I have helped with Freedom Train, but they haven’t been going lately. Please let me know of I can help.
    Thanks
    Sophie Hill

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