To the rescue
Shelter dogs make the trip from Texas to New Hampshire, where they're in high demand
By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent / December 14, 2010
NASHUA — Fiona, Marbles, Oscar Mayer, and a shaggy mixed terrier named MacDuff whimpered with excitement. In cages carefully stacked in the back of a rental van with 29 other dogs from Texas, the pooches had traveled 2,000 miles in just 2 1/2 days, through an unexpected Tennessee snowstorm to rush-hour New York traffic. But their journey was nearly complete.
As the door slid open, fresh New Hampshire air filtered into the dogs’ wet nostrils, and euphoria erupted outside.
“I want the Chihuahua!’’ cried Maureen Hall, one of a dozen greeters lined up, leashes in hand, to walk the dogs into the kennels at the Humane Society for Greater Nashua.
“Whatsa matter?’’ cooed another volunteer, Steve Roberts, trying to soothe a barking arrival. “Come on. . . . Good boy!’’
Soon, the cocker spaniels and golden retrievers and a Chihuahua mix named CJ — who came swaddled in a tiny pink coat — were running around the shelter’s pens and crunching up food, acclimating quite well to their new, albeit temporary, home.
“Having the transport van come with new dogs is like Christmas here,’’ said Susan Levine, another shelter volunteer. “Every time we open a new crate and see a new dog, it’s like opening a present.’’
If the dogs are a gift, then Santa Claus, in this case, is Virginia Davidson, founder of Alamo Rescue Friends, or ARF, a nonprofit group that’s spent the past six months shuttling strays from overcrowded San Antonio shelters to New Hampshire.
For many of the dogs, it’s a trip that will save their lives. San Antonio’s municipal animal shelter has put down more than 5,000 healthy and adoptable dogs and cats in 2010 simply because it has nowhere to house them. As recently as 2004, the city shelter was having to euthanize a staggering 80 healthy and adoptable dogs and cats a day on average, according to the San Antonio Area Foundation, a nonprofit that’s working with the city to reduce shelter overcrowding.
But as bad as dog overpopulation is in Texas and elsewhere in the country, where breeding seasons last most of the year and many pet owners aren’t educated about the importance of spaying and neutering (or can’t afford it), the opposite is true in Nashua, where demand for adoptable dogs outstrips supply.
The Humane Society for Greater Nashua works with three transport organizations to bring dogs up from the South, said animal care director Tammy DeVito. But no one is as committed to ferrying dogs as Davidson, who has made four trips from New England to San Antonio and back since July and has a fifth planned for late next month.
So far she has rescued 87 dogs, all of which have been properly quarantined before their trips, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and microchipped.
“They look for dogs to send to us that have extremely loving temperaments,’’ said DeVito. “All of the dogs that she has brought up from San Antonio have been adopted. I expect all of the dogs in this group to be gone by Christmas.’’
Davidson, 28, a Connecticut native, moved to Texas two years ago when her husband, Greg Kidd, was stationed there in the Army. She was stunned to see stray dogs everywhere, and when she decided to follow one, she discovered its seven puppies in a junkyard.
She convinced a family member to adopt yet another stray dog she found, paying nearly $700 to transport it back to Connecticut. That got her thinking about how she could help bring more dogs north, and eventually, ARF was born.
On a shoestring budget — about $2,000 per trip, including van rental and gas — Davidson made her first three trips with Kidd. Last week, her copilot was her sister, Heather, of Medford.
Leaving Connecticut (Virginia Davidson and her husband moved back to New England this summer), the sisters drove to San Antonio the first week of December. After loading up the dogs, they departed at 9 a.m. that Sunday, taking turns napping on a sleeping bag in the passenger seat and making meals out of the bagels, fruit, and cookies they packed.
The dogs traveled in crates stacked three-high and strapped to the van’s rafters. They slept on old, donated hotel towels, ate at night to minimize stomach issues, and got walked three times a day at rest stops along the way.
“A good indicator is that if the people have to go to the bathroom, then the dogs probably do, too,’’ said Davidson. “You keep an ear out for if any dog is making more noise than someone else. We certainly check to see what might be going on — to see if they need to get out or if they’ve knocked their water bowl over and they’re uncomfortable because their towel is wet.’’
As for the humans: “We just try to spell each other when we need it and keep each other fed and watered, just like the dogs,’’ said Heather.
Luna, a husky-shepherd mix, required numerous belly rubs; Kallie, a 9-month-old chocolate Lab and retriever mix, needed her Texas Longhorns blanket and stuffed moose to sleep; as for the radio, all on board preferred NPR and Journey songs.
Dog shelters in Massachusetts aren’t nearly as badly off as those in some other states, but there are times when overcrowding is an issue here as well, said Michael Keiley, director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Methuen shelter at Nevins Farm. Some might argue that local dogs in need of homes should be helped ahead of those 2,000 miles away. Still, if someone is going to transport animals, Keiley and others said, they should follow ARF’s example.
Davidson works only with receiving shelters in New Hampshire that are under capacity, raises her own money for transports through $50-per-dog sponsorships, and personally drives every dog every mile of the way. (Her efforts are entirely volunteer, she says, and she does not draw a salary from ARF.)
In Texas, ARF volunteers work hand-in-hand with families who provide foster homes during three-week medical quarantines for each dog picked for transport, and host a bon-voyage breakfast for all the canines before each trip.
Everyone works with San Antonio’s municipal Animal Care Services program, which not only provides the dogs and their trip food, but also is taking numerous steps to end the city’s stray dog crisis, such as providing 45,000 free spaying and neutering procedures last year.
“A lot of people have done a lot of work on this,’’ said Gavin Nichols, of the San Antonio Area Foundation. “But the transports have all been based on Virginia Davidson’s desire to make a difference.’’
Wearing her ARF T-shirt, her eyes bloodshot from little sleep, Davidson stood by as the last of the dogs were unloaded from the van. She said she’d most miss MacDuff, who kept her company late at night when all the other creatures in the van were fast asleep.
“It’s an adventure,’’ Davidson said. “When we stop for gas and the van is a little loud, we get some interesting looks. But we also get great stories from people who come up to us and say, ‘I have a rescue dog. I love what you’re doing.’ ’’
Peter DeMarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.alamorescuefriends.org or the Alamo Rescue Friends Facebook page for more information.