Angie Moore of Ruff Riders Pet Transport in McDonough, GA wrangles a dog onto the customized van she uses to move pets long distance for adoption. The dog’s foster parent looks on.
Meet Kipper. Three months old. Squirmy. Little white patch on his head shaped like a heart. And like a lot of dogs in the poor and rural south, nobody wanted him.
My wife Lauren and I have been fostering Kipper for a couple weeks at our house in Macon.
"There was an animal cruelty case, and it overflowed the shelter," says Lauren, "and the dogs who had been there the longest were going have to be euthanized."
So a local rescue organization posted the most adorable puppies to Facebook, looking for temporary homes. That's how we got involved.
Recently, we joined other foster parents in a parking lot south of Atlanta. We hand our little houseguests over to Angie Moore, who loads them onto her customized pet van. She'll drive through the night to New England, where there are a lot more people looking to adopt pets.
Who pays Moore? "Rescues, adopters. There's so many people that want to see these dogs get up there," she says.
Sandy Monterose is with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She says during 2005's Hurricane Katrina, relocation of animals really lit up.
"So many groups started moving animals out, and many of those groups are still working to save animals from risk today," Monterose says.
A lot of the migration remains south to north, but Monterose says other routes are emerging.
"In California, there's an overabundance of Chihuahuas, which aren't easy to find in other areas of the country," she says.
The ASPCA just launched an online map to help connect exporters with importers, for lack of less callous terms.
As for the person who paid for Kipper's trip north, her name is Erlene LeBorgne, founder of Maine Lab Rescue. LeBorgne got started a year ago, and now makes her living from adoption fees.
She says she gets flack sometimes for running a rescue-for-profit, but notes, "We have saved over 650 lives at this point."
I asked all these people: Why are there so many more unwanted pets in the South than the North?
Short answer: Poverty. A lot of folks can't afford to care for their pets, and shelters definitely noticed an influx when the economy tanked. LeBorgne thinks there's also a cultural issue.
"Folks just don't spay and neuter," she says. "By the same token, here in Maine, spay and neuter is a way of life."
And weather is a factor. Stray dogs can't hack a real winter. But where it's warm year round, a dog can live a full life on the street, eating garbage and making more doggies.
Kipper, by the way, got adopted by a family in Portland, Maine. They renamed him Damon. I'm not sure how I feel about that.