Story by Elberta McKnight/Photos courtesy Diane Williams
Whatever the destination, it’s usually better than the set of circumstances they are leaving. They are rescues. They are abandoned pets. They are the cats and dogs that seemingly no one wants. Only somewhere, someone does want them. And the challenge now is to find a way to transport that animal to its new home, which could be in a different state. A network of volunteers, humane societies, veterinarians and animal groups in Hall County are making a difference.
Enter Diane Williams. When her Doberman Pinscher passed, Diane’s vet encouraged her to find a hobby that would bring her joy…make her feel like life is worthwhile. The answer seemed obvious. She joined Doberman Rescue of Atlanta and started going to meetings. She was eventually asked if she would volunteer to do a “transport,” driving a red Doberman named Honor to its new home in another state. “It was a fitting name for my first transport,” Williams grinned. When she reached her destination in Alabama, the new foster parent was running a little late, “so I wound up sitting in the back seat with this little boy having the best time while we were waiting on her. It was great!,” Williams said.
That was her first transport; but certainly not her last. She was hooked. In fact, to this day, she still stays in touch with the woman who adopted Honor. And that’s part of the appeal. “Not only do you have the chance to help the dogs, but you meet friends,” Williams said. “I have friends on Facebook who are part of other rescue groups who I’ve never met, but when something happens with their dogs or one of my dogs, we all pitch in together and help with vet bills. Or if someone’s dog passes away, we do something nice for that person. “It’s just absolutely the best feeling knowing that you are part of getting that dog out of the situation that it was in — which obviously was not good — and you’re a small part of bringing that dog to a better life. It’s something money can’t buy. And it’s just a few hours of your time and a little bit of gas.”
Williams explains the transport process like this: A rescue group, humane society or veterinarian identifies an animal that needs to be placed in a new home and works to locate a new owner, foster home or animal sanctuary for the pet. Volunteer drivers are then sought to transport the pet to the new location, which, many times, is in a new city or state. Most of the time, volunteer drivers are found on Facebook. The rescue group or humane society will post a message on their page and volunteers respond. Drivers are typically asked to complete an application to ensure the pet’s safety.
Taylor Lee, who has volunteered at a number of organizations, advises animal lovers considering transport rescues to “know their limits.” Know what they can and can’t do. “I wish I could do it fulltime,” she said. “The need is very high.”
Each volunteer drives roughly about two hours or so one-way; which represents “one leg” of the trip. For example, if ten drivers are involved, it’s a ten-leg trip. The drivers meet at a pre-arranged public place not far off the interstate to handoff the pet. And the chain continues until the pet has safely reached its new location. And sometimes, it’s not just ground transportation; planes get involved.
There is a non-profit group called Pilots N Paws made up of people who own small private planes. The pilots volunteer their time and personal aircrafts to transport rescue animals.
“His name was Samuel,” Williams started, “and I took him to the Gwinnett County Airport and it was — for whatever reason — so emotional putting him in that plane and then just watching that plane as it ascended and became a dot and went away. It was probably one of the more moving experiences I’ve had rescuing and it just gave me such an appreciation for these pilots who volunteer to fly these dogs wherever they need to go.”
Summer Andersen is a veterinarian who lives in Hall County. “It’s emotional. It’s emotional for the dog, too. It takes an emotional toll on you because you see all kinds of situations. And they can’t speak for themselves,” said Andersen. “But then you know you’re getting them out of that situation and that eventually they’ll be loved in permanent homes.” A few groups she recommends are Evelyn’s Place Rescue in Gainesville, Perfect Pets Rescue, Inc. and a senior dog sanctuary in Winder called Frankie and Andy’s Place.
These non-profit organizations, like the humane societies, rely on donations, but they need so much more. “I think a lot of people think ‘I can’t help the humane society because I don’t have a lot of money,’ but there are definitely ways to help,” said Williams. “Do what you can. Don’t ever feel like what you have to offer isn’t enough.”