Mercedes and Infinity excitedly left Durango late last week to find a loving home in Boulder.
At 4 months old, the two Lab-mix puppies got a lift on a Rescue Waggin' van, along with four other dogs from the La Plata County Humane Society.
The Rescue Waggin' program transports shelter dogs from areas around the country with an over supply of homeless dogs to shelters where there's much more demand. PetSmart Charities, a large nonprofit organization separate from the PetSmart retail company, started the program in 2004 and currently operates in 23 states. It's saved more than 1,000 dogs in the county and more than 75,000 nationwide in nearly 10 years.
“Those dogs that may have been on that euthanasia list, they'll find homes within 24 or 48 hours after arriving at these destination shelters,” said Steve Pawlowski, media-relations manager for PetSmart Charities. “It's really a supply-and-demand principle that works.”
The big reason for this is socioeconomic. People who earn more income are more likely to get their animal fixed. That's why there's a smaller supply of dogs in the Northeastern U.S. and states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“Pretty much from California to Florida, there's an abundance of dogs, there's an overpopulation of dogs in those areas,” said Chris Nelson, director of animal services for the La Plata shelter.
There's less overpopulation the farther north one goes. Animal groups in Denver and the surrounding areas are bringing dogs from New Mexico “by the bushel full,” Nelson said. The La Plata County Humane Society brings dogs from Farmington but not through the Rescue Waggin' program.
“Their shelters don't have puppies in them,” Nelson said. “So they get puppies from the South, from states like Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and they take those dogs and move them up to the Northeast; and it's happening in the Midwest, too.”
Nelson said before the Humane Society began participating in Rescue Waggin', it was euthanizing for space about twice a month. The Humane Society hasn't euthanized a dog for space since it began participating in the Rescue Waggin' program. Dogster's Spay & Neuter Program currently offers low-cost spay-and-neuter services in the county.
“Folks, we don't even care what you make, we just want you to get your dog or cat fixed,” Nelson said.
The Rescue Waggin's bright-green van pulled up to the humane society on South Camino del Rio before the sun rose Thursday, and the sliding van door revealed crates stacked upon each other in neat rows. Bud, a 2-year-old Akbash mix, needed some coaxing to go into a crate, while 3-year-old Allison, a Plott hound-mix, eagerly jumped aboard.
The trip from Durango to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley is about eight hours. The temperature is set for about 70 degrees for the dogs, and a mix of classical music is played to soothe the animals during the trip. Patty Henderson and Amy Humrich, contract drivers for the charity, will stop three times to give the dogs a break from traveling.
Once the dogs arrive at their destination, they're quickly adopted, said Lisa Pedersen, executive director of the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. Sometimes, it's within hours. On average, it takes six days.
“In our community, it is the popular choice to adopt your animal when looking for a companion animal,” she said. “That's why it works so well.”
The Boulder Humane Society's veterinary clinic offers payment plans and financial assistance for low-income families. Dogs from other areas come Tuesdays and Thursdays and are a good mix of ages, breeds and sizes, Pedersen said. The shelter places between 5,000 and 6,000 animals a year.
Without the transports, the shelter might be short dogs.
“We've seen a steady decrease in the number of animals that are coming into our facility from our own areas,” she said. “What I mean by that is either lost or stray animals or animals that are being relinquished by their families, that is steadily going down every year.”
Brock, a 10-month-old Labrador-mix who left Durango on the Rescue Waggin' van Thursday, was on hold at the Boulder shelter as of Friday afternoon, along with Mercedes and Allison.