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Think Globally, Rescue Locally

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

A rescue group in a high kill community recently sent out a plea for donations to pay for gas to drive to Arkansas to bring back a van load of bully breed dogs. This occurred at about the same time a number of bully breed dogs were added to rescue group's local animal control "Rainbow Bridge" album on Facebook. Other shelters local to the rescue group were also begging for help. But, instead of helping locally, the rescue was "saving" dogs that were 1,000 miles away. This was far from an isolated case. While that might all seem sort of strange, it gets even stranger. A no kill community in Kentucky recently checked references for a rescue group that had applied to be able to take "pit bulls" from their shelter to bring 1,200 miles away, to a community where the shelters were killing nearly half of the animals..

In Florida, things are really weird. Some shelters actively exports animals to Northern states, while some Florida rescue goups import animals from Northern states into Florida.

The numbers are staggering. Shelters and rescue groups in one community in the North have consistently imported more than 10,000 animals each year for many years, even as the shelters in that community were killing large numbers of animals.

This combination of facts caused one animal advocate to recently write on Facebook, "What the [bleep] is going on?! Why are so many transports happening?" The response from people working and volunteering in the field of animal sheltering was prompt, and surprisingly thorough, and included the following reasons:

  • Some local rescues have (rightly or wrongly) been denied the privilege of rescuing animals from local shelters. When that happens, they are likely to seek animals from out-of-state.

  • Exporting shelters will oftentimes provide vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries for the pets they are shipping. The receiving agency, therefore, ends up with a pet that costs them no money. If they can turn around and adopt it quickly, it is fundraising opportunity for them.

  • The transports generate emotional stories on both ends, that generate press and PR for both the exporting and importing agencies.

  • Exporting agencies can increase their Live Release Rates (LRR) without the work of implementing life-saving programs locally.

John Oliver recently made comments about America's dysfunctional mental health system in which he talked about how mental health institutes would give mentally ill patients one way bus tickets to other states in order to get rid of them. He called this "Greyhound Therapy." Well, the transport system for shelter pets in the USA is not much different. Shelters can (and do) pay a transporter a small fee per animal to move them to another state. If the transporter can collect enough animals, they can make a nice bit of money for driving pets out-of-state. They can also collect donations from people to help pay them even more money. And, in some cases, the transporters don't even bring the pets to shelters. They host their own adoption events out-of-state, and collect and keep the adoption fees they charge.

One example of this we followed was a case involving about 50 dogs that were transported from Texas to Minnesota in a single trip. The exporting agency vaccinated and sterilized the pets before they left and paid the transporter $50 per dog being transported. The transporter also had a plea on the Internet for donations to help "save" these dogs. Once in Minnesota, the dogs were taken to a PetSmart store and put up for adoption, for as much as $250 each. Dogs that were not adopted (about 18 of them) at that one day event, were then dropped by the transporter at a high-kill shelter. If you do the math, this transporter could, potentially, have taken in about $10,500 for a few day's work, not counting any donations they may have received, all because of a dysfunctional rescue system that is anything but transparent.

There may be some rare, legitimate reasons for shipping animals. But, for the most part, they are few and far between. The best motto for all is to think globally, but rescue locally.

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