”But get him talking about the curly white Bichon Frise he helped rescue from a dark life in a puppy mill, and all of that changes.
“Here I am, a big ol’ tough truck driver, and I’m sitting here choking up right now,” said Kiel, 46, who just transported the grateful fluff ball to a woman in California who was eager to give the dog a good home. “She was so happy to get that dog — just absolutely happy. It was so touching to see.”
Kiel is a new recruit to an informal and ever-growing network of animal lovers who are transporting rescued dogs, cats, bunnies, ferrets and even the occasional monitor lizard or pot-bellied pig to loving homes, even if those homes are located hundreds of miles away. This unofficial Underground Railroad is powered by truckers, pilots, animal rescue groups and volunteers who provide “layover homes” to all kinds of creatures as they journey to new and happier lives.
Their work happens on their own dime and takes plenty of time, but these volunteers are determined to keep animals moving in the face of seemingly intractable problems: animal overpopulation, and downright abuse, neglect and abandonment of animals by their owners. According to the American Humane Association, about 3.7 million stray and unwanted animals are put to sleep in U.S. shelters each year.
“Shelters nationwide are filled with animals that are going to be killed,” said Sue Wiese, 68, a former truck driver from Joshua, Texas. “You just have to do something.”
In September 2005, Wiese founded Operation Roger, an organization made up of regional and long-haul truckers who transport pets in the cabs of their trucks as they deliver freight all across the country. She got the effort started after Hurricane Katrina left an estimated 250,000 pets stranded and struggling to survive.
“My heart was just breaking from all the stories about the pets,” Wiese recalled. “I was driving down the road and I was praying, ‘Lord, what can I do? I’m just a truck driver.’ And then I heard one word: Transport.”
Thanks to the abundance of animal lovers on the Internet, Wiese’s calling wasn’t all that hard to fulfill. An animal shelter or rescue organization might not be able to adopt out all its dogs and cats to homes locally — but what if nice people in other states read about those animals online and want to adopt them? Then, basically, those fortunate furry friends just need a ride.
Since 2005, Operation Roger has given nearly 600 animals a lift. The organization has detailed requirements and checks in place to make sure its drivers aren’t transporting animals to or from for-profit breeders, puppy mills or show circuits. Instead, the emphasis is on rescued animals who need permanent homes, and pets who have an opportunity to be reunited with their owners. For instance, if a lost pet turns up hundreds of miles away and is identified with a microchip, that pet could get a comfy ride home in the cab of a truck. Laura T. Coffey, msnbc.comShare on Facebook