A glimpse at how volunteer truckers are helping pets reach their forever homes
By Katie Marsico
What happens when a prospective adopter in Pennsylvania spots the perfect pooch on a website for a shelter that’s based out of California? Should a match made in heaven be sacrificed on account of geographic distance? The volunteers at Operation Roger … Truckers Pet Transport (ORTPT) don’t think so. ORTPT helps animals make the interstate journeys to the new guardians and better lives that would otherwise be largely unattainable.
Trucker Sue Wiese founded ORTPT and named the nonprofit in memory of her Manchester Terrier in September 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of that disaster, the world witnessed thousands of pets left stranded and separated from guardians who were forced to relocate to other states. With truckers frequently driving cross-country routes on a regular basis, these men and women seemed ideal volunteers to assist in moving animals.
“[Wiese’s] thoughts started with Katrina,” explains Honey Edwards, ORTPT’s vice president and Wiese’s daughter. “We soon … found, however, that Katrina pet victims where not the only pets in need. The idea then became to unite truckers to transport pets everywhere.” To date, that is exactly what ORTPT has accomplished with its approximately 262 rescues. With more than 50 active volunteers, the nonprofit responds to phone calls or applications for transport completed via its website. As drivers can’t deviate from their assigned routes, both the foster guardian who is relinquishing the pet and the animal’s new family then arrange to meet the driver at a truck stop or travel plaza. A tax-deductible donation of $20 is requested upon application for transport, which helps offset travel costs such as gas.
“We have transported ferrets, birds, cats, and dogs,” says Edwards. “Right now, we have an applicant who has asked us to transport four very rare turtles to a reserve. Our drivers treat each animal with love and kindness, as if the pet [was] their own, and animals actually stay in the cab with them.” It’s clear that such dedication and commitment on the part of volunteers benefit the pets in question, but in many ways ORTPT is making life easier for the people on both sides of these journeys as well.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to get transports done [without outside assistance] because people are having a harder time making ends meet, they are working longer and harder to get it done, and gas prices are going up and up,” notes Janeen Jackson, coordinator at large for Roundup, Montana–based Catahoula Rescue, Inc. “Relay transports are tricky and tense to coordinate. If one person is not on time, then it all gets off track. With ORTPT, though, transports have been pretty easy; the truckers are used to traveling and often even have their own dogs with them. They are used to juggling things to make it work.”
Jackson also emphasizes that many of the animals whom Catahoula Rescue Inc. has collaborated with ORTPT to assist would have faced uncertain futures were it not for the efforts of volunteer truckers. “But for the times I was positive we could absolutely count on ORTPT, there would have been several dogs [who] would never have made it out of shelters. Those dogs are in homes today. We even sent a unilaterally deaf dog from Georgia to New Mexico via ORTPT.” In addition, Jackson appreciates the fact that truckers have been known to call from the road to keep staffers apprised of how pets are doing during transport.
“That is always a comfort … because we realize these dogs have had nothing but jeopardy in their lives, and we want to rescue solidly and take the jeopardy out and give them security. I personally consider ORTPT and their efforts very much a part of our rescue team. Rescue is truly about teamwork.”
Edwards concurs, but notes that there are nonetheless certain circumstances that occasionally prevent ORTPT from aiding in rescues. “We have had applications come in for horses, [whom] we don’t transport. … Also, when someone continues to not fully complete the application, sometimes it is obvious that the person requesting a transport is perhaps not ‘on the up and up.’” Complicating matters further is the fact that employers don’t always approve of having pets on board their truckers’ vehicles. This can potentially create stressful professional dilemmas for drivers if their volunteer efforts are discovered.
Despite these challenges and limitations, it’s apparent to many like Jackson that the number of animals and people ORTPT assists far outweighs those it can’t. “What would I say to the volunteers at ORTPT?” she reflects. “Please keep helping our dogs. Please keep helping us help them. We can find a place for them to go, but without a ride, they will die. They need you—you are part of their lifeline to a ‘happily ever after’ life.”
For More Information:
Catahoula Rescue Inc.
Operation Roger … Truckers Pet Transport