Sometimes, prospective adopters will make the trip, as Gail Belfiore of Johnson County, Tenn., has found out. She places her dogs using petfinder.org, and if the new parent can’t make the trip, Belfiore does it herself. “Nothing is going to keep me from getting these animals into better situations,” she says. “Nothing.” Gail snatches dogs from the jaws of death every week on “kill day” at the local shelter, then adopts them out to homes as far away as Florida, Massachusetts, Delaware, even Ontario. She’s placed nearly 650 dogs and cats.
Belfiore’s ferocious dedication is not unusual. Virginia Grant and Stephanie DeArmey share driving duties for the shelter in Bourg, Louisiana, that works with Melanie Crane in Maine. They log 4,000 miles on a typical trip, during which they drop off as many as 60 animals along the way. They stop every five hours to feed, water and change “piddle” pads. On one trip, Grant contracted pneumonia, but soldiered on. On another, their van broke down and they had to shift their crates of dogs, cats, guinea pigs and birds to a rental vehicle. Lynda Conrad has made the 10-hour drive from Meherrin to the New Jersey border 50 times a year since July 2001, leaving at 4:30 AM with up to 40 puppies. And when she’s not driving north, she’s doing local low-cost spay/neuter driving runs across 13 counties.
“When Sandy and Leigh got the Homebound Hound program up and running, I was the one doing the ‘running,’ ” explains Conrad. “And I’ll do these puppy runs as long as I can—it’s my purpose in life at this point. I love dogs; I wouldn’t be who I am if there weren’t dogs in my life.”
Grant is similarly motivated. Asked what could possibly make her hit the road so often, she simply points to Charlie, a Bloodhound relinquished from the Georgia prison system because he wouldn’t track. He went up to Maine, then to a foster home in Roanoke, Virginia, from which he was adopted. On that same trip, Grant and DeArmey left two hound mixes at Sterling; both went to forever homes within a week.
The adoption rate is just as robust at CAAA, and it’s not only the southern dogs who are benefiting. Buck notes that her canine imports have had an unexpected, but welcome, effect: “They bring people in here and they have a good experience, and then tell their friends; pretty soon, we’re getting exposure for all our dogs and even our cats,” she says. “It also exposes people to how many dogs out there need homes, and why spay and neuter is so important.”
And what about the impact on the South? Are these programs improving the overall situation for dogs there? Victoria Horn, chief animal control officer for Amelia County, Virginia, thinks so. Horn, who has worked with Wyatt for five years and oversees a small county shelter, says the number of dogs turned in to her is on the decline—813 were surrendered in 2001 and only 699 in 2003. “You just don’t see as many stray animals around or being brought in,” says Horn. “I definitely attribute that to Sandy—she works really hard to make things better for these animals.”
For her part, Wyatt stays motivated by reading her mail. Every week brings news of another happy ending for a Homebound Hound. “I send Walker Hounds up north that would be hunting deer down here, and tied to some stake outside,” she says. “And I get photos of them [from their new owners], sprawled on the living room sofa surrounded by toys. These letters are a lifesaver.”
And she intends to keep them coming.