Ryan Jo Summers
Rusty’s Legacy Shelter Dog Transport Alliance
A sad reality of animal shelters is the need to sometimes euthanize otherwise adoptable animals due to lack of space. Shelter workers try to make each adoptable pet viable to the public, but the fact remains that there are usually more pets than available homes.
Programs including utilizing foster homes, public education, stronger adopting incentives, and more creative adoptive methods reduce the need for euthanizations. But the need cannot be totally eliminated. However, in 2020, the Shelter Dog Transport Alliance (SDTA) was initiated as an extension of 501(c 3) Rusty’s Legacy Animal Rescue in Marion. Natasha Kush, Transport Director, spearheaded this initiative. Equipped with a Ram Promaster cargo van, money raised to purchase sturdy pet transport carriers, and high expectations, the team has made a huge impact (1,700 animals saved so far and counting!) for shelter animals in twelve area counties.
Their goal is simple: let no shelter in their alliance ever need to euthanize for lack of space.
Sometimes a dog in a shelter and languish weeks or months. They may simply be older, missing a leg or eye, have medical needs, or just not be “winsome” enough. Other times there is just not enough time to find the right family before their shelter fills up.
The SDTA contacts shelters weekly to assess each facility’s greatest needs. The Alliance has two launch sites—one in Marion and one in Asheville. Once those dogs slated for travel pass veterinary checks, they are loaded into a climate-controlled cargo van and driven through the night to eagerly awaiting northern rescues.
Strict spay/neuter laws and other progressive animal welfare measures in northern states have created a shortage of adoptable dogs. Meanwhile, the south still has overcrowding issues. The SDTA has successfully bridged that gap by linking rescues in NY, PA, NH, NJ, and DE with over a dozen WNC and surrounding shelters in need. And they bring some unique rewards to their program:
First, they do not charge a transport fee to either side, but they take 100% of the money the northern states pay in pull fees and return it to the local county shelters. To date, this has amounted to over $34,500 returned to our local county shelters and rescues (Just since March 2020). They are the only known transport program that returns funds to area shelters.
Second, due to their unique relationships with northern rescue outlets, ALL dogs get to find homes; not just the “perfect” dogs and puppies, but also special needs and mother dogs too (usually the first ones in shelters to be euthanized). The Shelter Dog Transport Alliance knows where all the dogs end up and receive updates, despite the distance of a thousand or more miles.
Third, two of the SDTA shelters have moved to No-Kill, with a live release rate of over 90% in 2020. But this success has led to a unique wish list.
The SDTA could very much use a second transport van to help shelter cats and kittens. One area shelter has to euthanize 12-20 cats/kittens a day, including mother cats and nursing babies simply due to lack of space. The Transport Alliance has outlets for these cats in the north but lacks both the second vehicle and drivers to get them up there. Dedicated and trustworthy drivers are needed to help make these life-saving trips north happen. And the SDTA could use the funding.
It costs about $450 to run an entire transport, which includes gas, tolls, health certificates by a mobile vet who assesses each animal before it can travel, and other travel necessities. Natasha and the group do not take a salary, nor do they have grant writers, or receive government funding. Instead, they rely solely on donations. The SDTA will help—as a free service— any county shelter in need, whether it is in NC, GA, TN, SC or VA. If a shelter is full and struggling, the Transport Alliance is there to help prevent any loss of life. Any rescue or shelter just needs to please reach out.
To contact the Shelter Dog Transportation Alliance, whether you are an individual wanting to volunteer, or a shelter in need, please use their website at shelterdogtransportalliance.com or their Facebook page at facebook.com/shelterdogtransportalliance/
Ryan Jo Summers is a local author and animal advocate. She has worked in the professional pet care industry for more than thirty years in both business and non-profit sectors. Her home is a haven to a menagerie of rescued animals of various species. To find out more about Ryan’s writing and her pets visit her website at ryanjosummers.com or her Facebook pages facebook.com/RyanJoSummersAuthor and facebook.com/ryanjosummers
“Getting to Know your Local Rescues” is an on-going series highlighting WNC animal rescue groups. Any organization interested in being featured is invited to contact Ryan Jo at ryanjosummers.com and use the ‘Contact’ tab.