To the 'Land of Oz': Humane Society sends out largest rescue transport to date bound for homes in northern, eastern states

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By Kacie Goode


“These rescues, they are taking these less desirable dogs from our area and they are giving them their chance. It’s incredible.”

Lisa Powell, Nelson County Humane Society

Brooke Coffell held tight to Trixie, an Australian shepherd granted the privilege of “riding shotgun” on the way to Louisville Saturday morning. Before pulling out of the parking lot of the Nelson County Humane Society, fellow shelter employee Tiffany

Ford leaned in to give Trixie one last pat and kiss on the head. It was a bittersweet goodbye after helping care for the dog, surrendered by a breeder. Trixie was on her way to a foster home, where she would finally have time to relax and be loved.

For months, the Nelson County Humane Society has been sending dogs out to rescues in the northern part of the United States, where they will go directly into foster homes or already have adoptive homes waiting. While the shelter sends out around 10 dogs each weekend, Saturday’s transport of 27 dogs was the largest the local Humane Society has conducted to date.

“It’s really amazing,” volunteer Julie Duncan said of the feat.

Duncan had 11 dogs, including Trixie, in her van to Louisville, where she met up with another transport that would drive the pups to Secondhand Hounds, a rescue in Minnesota.

Duncan has volunteered with the Humane Society for about eight years and has been on the board of directors for about two. She’s been on her fair share of transports and said she is happy the organization is able to work with rescues to find homes for dogs that, if left in shelters, may never make it out.

“We’re really blessed to be able to save lives and send these dogs to good forever homes,” she said. “I love being a part of this.”

While Duncan headed north, Chuck Dickerson headed east to Lexington with more than a dozen other dogs in a van lent to the Humane Society by Barktown Rescue. From Lexington, Dickerson’s dogs were bound for various rescues in New York, Rhode Island and even across the border to Canada.

The efforts by locals made up only part of the journey. When in Louisville, Duncan and Coffell, who was tagging along for her first transport, met up with Shelly Phillips-Wright, the Kentucky coordinator for Secondhand Hounds, who also serves as a liaison between Nelson County and rescues along the East Coast.

The transport from Louisville to Minnesota is about half a day’s drive, but Phillips-Wright, who has been involved with animal rescue most of her life, knows it’s the best chance at a good life some of these dogs have.

“I tell the dogs they are going to the Land of Oz,” she said. “Anything they need, they will get. Their lives will change forever.”

In addition to the 15 from Nelson County, Phillips-Wright also helped move 30 other dogs Saturday from shelters in Russell, Adair, Lincoln, Casey, Wayne, Floyd and Cumberland counties.

She said rescue partnerships with organizations such as Secondhand Hounds are essential for Kentucky, which has ranked last in the country for animal protection laws for 12 consecutive years, and other shelters in the south that struggle with the same.

“We have no laws, protection for these sweet souls,” she said. “Up north and east, the laws are stronger. People want rescue dogs. The shelters are not overloaded like ours. I went to a shelter here in Minnesota. There were three dogs,” and that was a scenario she could only dream of for shelters in Kentucky.

Making room, saving lives

Working with the rescues in northern states does not mean the Humane Society has stopped adopting out animals, as local adoptive homes are still a need, especially for cats. But the rescues do help fight overcrowding, a serious issue for many southern shelters.

In the month of January alone, the Nelson County Humane Society received 110 dogs, 60 cats, two goats and an injured owl, which was turned over to Raptor Rehab in Louisville.

“That’s crazy for a small, rural shelter,” said employee Lisa Powell. “It shouldn’t be that high.”

Powell said winter months are usually slower, but the severe cold may have played a part in the uptick.

Of the 110 dogs brought in, 44 were transported to rescues throughout the month, Powell said, and February is already close to surpassing that number with Saturday’s move. In January, the shelter euthanized 15 dogs.

Not only are the northern transports helping the shelter move out animals for adoption at a much quicker rate, but it’s also helping to cut back on euthanasia.

“We are still considered a kill shelter because we are an open-admission shelter,” Powell said... “But we are trying to save as many as we can.”

In the past, the shelter had to euthanize due to lack of space, but by having the option to send dozens of dogs out to rescues, euthanasia is reserved more for cases of seriously ill or overly aggressive animals and those euthanized by owner request.

Most of the dogs the Humane Society takes in are large mixed-breed dogs such as hounds, labs and pit bulls. These types of dogs are considered less desirable for adoption because the area is “saturated” with them, Powell said, and they can sit at the shelter for months without so much as a glance from a potential family. Working with the rescues, however, those same, unwanted dogs can be adopted within a matter of days.

In addition to the larger breeds, beagles and some puppies, many of the northern rescues will also take dogs with medical needs ranging from old age and skin conditions to broken bones and other wounds.

“The rescues we work with will fully vet these animals,” said Coffell, who has worked at the Humane Society since April of last year. “If they tag a special-needs or hospice-type animal, they have the funds to properly care for that animal. Rescue is a guaranteed second chance at life.”

The workers gave an example of a badly neglected dog that came to the shelter. The dog was severely emaciated, had a foot injury, a broken jaw and, upon a veterinary exam, was found to have been shot. A rescue has already spent around $3,000 nursing her back to health.

“There is no way that, in Kentucky, we can afford to give a dog that kind of medical treatment, rehabilitate it and adopt it out,” Powell said.

With rescues, the shelter employees know the dogs are receiving the care they need and can go on to find families that won’t return them a few months later, as too often is the case locally.

They even receive updates with photos of some they have transported out, showing them with healing bodies, wagging tails and new lives.

“These rescues, they are taking these less desirable dogs from our area and they are giving them their chance,” Powell said. “It’s incredible.”

Want to help?

The Humane Society is in need of volunteers, fosters and community support to continue fighting against overcrowding. For Saturday transports, which take place around 6 a.m., more volunteers are needed to help walk dogs before they are loaded into the van. Community members can also choose to foster dogs before their transports. Since transport dates are set, fosters are short term.

Donations are also needed, as some grants previously provided to the Humane Society have run out.

To volunteer, foster or donate, contact the Humane Society at 502-349-2082.