Daryl was just another starving, emaciated Lab mix stray, one of the thousands who have come through the doors at the Madison-Oglethorpe Animal Shelter over the years.
Besides not being properly cared for, Daryl was also suffering from a large abscess on his face and a yeast infection in his ears.
“He was in pretty bad shape,” shelter operations manager Danielle Morton said.
Shelter employees and vets went to work on Daryl, getting him fed, cleaned up, well and ready for a new home.
“But he was here two months and nobody came to adopt him, he just kept getting passed over,” Morton said. “And we knew he was a good dog that deserved a second chance.”
And then that chance came, in the form of the shelter’s new transport program to take stray and unwanted dogs “up north” to find homes.
Daryl was on the shelter’s first transport to a PetSmart store in Connecticut where he was adopted by Erica Pucci and her family.
Daryl is now living the good life and the folks at MOAS still hear from his new adoptive family. The Journal reached out to Ms. Pucci and got this response.
“We did adopt Daryl (we changed his name to Ruger) from those wonderful people at MOAS and we are so happy,” Pucci wrote. “We had a rescue dog previously that we lost to cancer. It was a rough road and we weren’t sure we were ready for another dog yet, but our friends and family encouraged us to be ‘pet parents’ again. One of our friends told us about the adoption at PetSmart in early May. My boyfriend, Jamie, happened to be in the area and I told him to take a ride by and see…Well he called me and said ‘you need to come.’”
Pucci said she started to cry the minute she got in the parking lot.
“Bittersweet I guess, sad that we had lost our poor Barney, excited at the prospect of a new pup, sad that I couldn’t take them all home!” she wrote. “At first I didn’t know how I’d be able to choose one out of all these dogs that needed a home. I saw ‘Daryl’ in the pen playing with the other dogs, looking around and he was completely content. He would respond when they called his name and he seemed so friendly. I walked around some more, but kept going back to that first pen where he was. Finally I asked ‘what’s this guy’s story?’, so they told me…I looked at Jamie (boyfriend) and said, ‘are we taking Daryl home?’ We both knew he was the one and he would be a great addition to our family.”
Pucci said “Daryl” is very affectionate and a great blessing.
“A friend sent me a note that said, ‘when you adopt a dog, you’re saving two lives; the life of the dog you adopted and now you’ve made room at the shelter for another to be saved,” said Pucci. “I had never thought of it that way before. I enourage anyone interested in getting a pet to adopt/rescue. I can’t say enough about the volunteers at MOAS. They are very special people to do what they do. I’ve kept in touch and they are always anxious for an update on how Ruger (aka Daryl) is doing.”
Morton said it’s stories like Daryl’s that keep them going, always looking for a way to find homes for all dogs like him that come through the doors each week.
“It why we do what we do,” she said.
So far the shelter has done three transports to Conecticut this year – saving the lives of 112 dogs.
Location is everything when it comes to saving unwanted animals in a community, Morton said. Some, like this community, have too many homeless animals, while others, such as some areas in the northeast, have a higher number of waiting adopters.
“Sadly, Georgia has one of the highest euthanasia rates in the country,” Morton said. “There are just more pets than there are people to take them.”
And though the shelter’s euthanasia rate has dropped dramatically over the years – down to about 25 percent in recent months – Morton says she and the shelter staff wanted to do better. “We want to give every adoptable pet a chance at a new life,” she said.
Transports of shelter animals to northeastern states like Connecticut and New Jersey are nothing new, but the effort takes time, dedication, and funding.
First off, there is the vehicle, gas expense and having enough staff and volunteers to make the 32-hour round trip.
“We finally got to the place that we could do it and deal with all the laws and requirements that come with it,” Morton said.
Last year, MOAS became a “Petsmart Partner,” making them eligible for grants, training and mentoring programs.
The whole idea of transport took on a new face a decade ago when Petsmart Charities started their own transport program.
“Since then, they’ve saved over 70,000 dogs from overpopulated areas,” Morton said. “These dogs really are getting the ride of their lives.”
MOAS became a part of this program earlier this year and so far has received $4,300 in grants.
Each of the dogs chosen for transport are quarantined for a period of two to three weeks and are fully-vetted, including spay/neuter, vaccines, worming and physical exams. This also gives plenty of time for anyone who is missing a dog to come looking for him or her.
And shelter officials choose a mix of dogs to make the trip – not all of the ones going are the small lap dog kind, Morton said.
“There are some of those, but there are also a fair share of large ‘mutts,’ including Georgia Black Dogs, the ones that have the least chance of getting adopted here,” she said.
Besides saving more dogs, Morton emphasized that the adoptions have opened up more shelter space to house more dogs in need of their help.
Each of the dogs selected must also check out behaviorally, maening they must be able to get along with other dogs and with people.
“We take the time to work with all the dogs here – giving them time in play groups so we can watch for behavioral issues,” Morton said. “When we identify an issue, we pull that animal aside and work with it…That just makes for healthier shelter animals as a result.”
Shelter board members, veterinarians and employees, along with a list of volunteers, have stepped up to accompany the transports. It takes four to five people to care for the dogs and make them comfortable for the 16-hour one way trip.
“We are very blessed with the amazing support from our spay and neuter clinic,” Morton said. “Dr. Lynn Beckmann and Dr. Conell Kittell have played a pivotal role in allowing us to join the movement of transporting animals.”
The shelter also purchased a climate-controlled RV that can take 45-to-50 dogs per trip.
“Many of them are already pre-adopted,” Morton said, adding that potential adopters fill out an application online, including references and veterinarian information.
Each dog taken on transport has an adoption packet with an adoption contract, their health certificate and educational materials. Volunteers and rescue groups from the area are on hand at the Petsmart adoptiont site to help care for the animals and to educate potential adopters on the proper care of their new pet.
A second vet is also on site at the adoption event to do a post-entry health assessment, which is required for transporting the animals across state lines.
MOAS staff and volunteers do one-week follow up calls to check on the adopted dogs to see how they are doing in their new homes.
“We have to feel comfortable with who we’ve left that dog with,” Morton said. If unforseen problems arrive after they leave, there are volunteers in place to help out.
So far, the shelter has made enough from the adoption of transport dogs to pay for the RV and the expenses involved with the trips.
“No county tax money is used to fund these trips,” Morton emphasized. “Like the low cost spay/neuter clinic, the transport program is self-supporting.”
It cost $313,000 to run the shelter in 2013. Madison County’s share of that was $84,000, which was used toward shelter operating expenses, Morton said. Besides Oglethorpe County’s share, the rest comes from donations, fundraisers and adoptions.
Currently, the shelter is caring for 104 animals between the shelter on Colbert-Danielsville Road and the Petsmart Cat Adoption Center in Athens, with another 50 or so in foster homes.
“The biggest question I hear is, ‘what about the people in and around our community that want to adopt?’” Morton said. “And my answer to that is, trust me, we have plenty for everyone.”
As of July 1, the shelter had taken in 730 dogs and 464 cats in 2014.
“That’s a lot of lives to save and we take our role seriously,” Morton said. “The bottom line is we can’t do this alone. It truly does take the collaboration of many animal loving, like-minded people to move mountains in the world of rescue.”
And everyone can do something.
“The two most important things that the people in our community can do to help are to spay and neuter their animals and to donate to our cause,” Morton said. “It truly is all about these animals.”
For more information about MOAS, a 501c3 non-profit organization, go to www.moaspets.com, call the shelter at 706-795-2868 or go to MOAS Pets on Facebook.