Canine compassion

Last weekend’s trip involved 25 drivers, traveling from Mississippi to the Canadian border.By DENISE DICK


KINSMAN — They drive from all over the United States every weekend with a common goal: To save discarded pets.

They hand those pets off from one driver to another on legs of a journey that will end with delivery of the animals to new homes or rescue groups, where they’ll be safe until they find homes.

Kinsman Township resident Emily Love joined with Road Warriors and On The Road Again, two animal rescue transports, about eight months ago through a Web site for an Afghan-hound rescue. She counts one purebred Afghan and one mix among her brood of four dogs, three horses and “innumerable” cats.

Initially Love just watched online, reading the posts about how groups of dogs destined for death found sanctuary through the transports. Then she broke down and offered to help.

“I just felt compelled,” Love said.

About twice monthly, she drives from her house to Austinburg, outside of Ashtabula, and picks up the pets from another driver.

Last weekend, Love met up with Betsy and Steve Bagstad of Stow. The couple drove nine dogs from Medina on their leg of a trip that began in shelters in Mississippi and Kentucky.

They started about three years ago and drive for whichever transport group needs the help.

“To save a life — it’s really an easy thing to do,” Betsy Bagstad said. “So many of these dogs would be put down.”

From Austinburg, Love traveled the 51 miles to Erie, Pa., with her Audi wagon packed with wagging tails.

“I’m not a sap about animals,” Love said. “I just hate to see something die that can be saved.”

The trip included a reporter, a photographer and the dogs — two chihuahua mixes, three beagle mixes, one miniature poodle, a husky mix, a hound mix and one all-American mutt. They ranged from 10 pounds to 40 pounds.

One chihuahua rode in a crate. The poodle and the other chihuahua curled up in the passenger seat while the others roamed the back of the car.

Love met the next drivers, Barb and Terry Shamp of Cranesville, Pa., near Erie. After potty breaks and some water, the three loaded the nine pups into the Shamps’ Chevy Astro van.

“We got this van especially for this,” Barb said. “We just love animals.”

They have 12 dogs at home.

Love admires those who have been making the drives for years and those who organize the effort to save pets.

“They really are heroes to me,” she said.

When they learn a dog will be put down because a shelter needs space, they drop everything to help.

It started with truck drivers taking a pup along their route from a kill shelter to safe haven.

“Even if you’re not an animal lover, if you believe in a divine being, you just feel like you’re doing something in accord with that,” Love said.

After delivering the furry cargo to the next volunteers, Love said she feels a sense of satisfaction knowing she helped save dogs’ lives. The dogs seem to understand the trips are for their benefit, too.

They kept quiet during the hour-long trip, snuggling in a passenger’s lap or the backseat for a quick nap.

“It’s a pretty good way to spend a Sunday, and it just costs you a tank of gas and a couple of hours,” Love said.

The transport was coordinated through Road Warriors.

Toni Klemko of Lewisberry, Pa., operates a dog rescue group and started Road Warriors about six years ago. Her transport group started when one of her rescue dogs was returned to her through another rescue transport group. The dog had been adopted from Klemko by a Florida man who turned the dog in to a Florida shelter a few days later.

Klemko started working with that transport group, On the Road Again, and then started Road Warriors. She uses a Web site, to link 10 high-kill shelters with rescue groups that will take dogs slated for destruction.

Most of the shelters are in the southern United States. Rescue groups involved are primarily along the East Coast.

The shelters post information about the dogs slated for euthanasia, and the rescue groups select the dogs they want. Klemko then lines up the drivers, from the shelters to the dogs’ destinations.

Last weekend’s transport started about 5 a.m. Saturday when dogs were picked up at a shelter in Mississippi and two in Kentucky. The three sets of dogs met in Lexington, Ky.

They traveled all day, spending the night in Columbus, rose early Sunday morning and drove some more, finally ending the trek at the Canadian border where the dogs were delivered to two rescue groups.

Trips to Canada are rare, Klemko said. Most dogs go to rescue groups in the U.S.

All told, 25 drivers participated. Two more offered their homes to house the dogs Saturday night.

“Finding a transport for a dog is harder than it would seem,” Klemko said.

She spends between 40 hours and 60 hours weekly filling the runs. Without enough drivers, a run gets scrapped and Klemko tries again the following weekend.

“These dogs can be saved,” she said.

Between August and December 2008, her group transported 1,500 dogs. “Those are dogs that would have died,” she said.

The best part, Klemko said, is hearing from the people who adopt a Road Warriors dog about how much they enjoy their new pet. “We were a part of that,” she said.

Klemko is always looking for drivers. When a run involves several dogs, she tries to get two drivers per leg. Any car or truck will do.

“I’ve had people in Beetle bugs and Mini Coopers,” she said.


Cross Country

Volunteers from across the country drive in legs, transporting dogs from shelters where they’re slated for euthanasia to rescue groups of new homes. More details:

Road Warriors

Information about how to volunteer is available on the blog,

More information is also available at

On the Road Again

Source: Rescue groups

Highway to Heaven

Animals are transported from high-kill shelters mostly in the South to rescue groups or homes, primarily on the East Coast. Volunteers sign up to drive one leg on the journey, handing the animals off to the next driver at a designated spot. Requirements:

All dogs that are old enough will be altered before transport.

Every dog is given a heartworm test as soon as it is tagged by rescue.

Rescues pay for vetting and in-house services such as worming.

Pups are kept in foster/quarantine homes for a minimum of 14 days. They are wormed as soon as the transport group gets them home and then again the week before the transport.

Each dog will have at least one set of shots before transport. They will come with a medical record.

Between five and nine days before the transport date, Highway to Heaven takes the dogs to the vet for health certificates. They are given a fecal test during that exam to be sure they are free of internal parasites.

Source: Highway to Heaven rescue Web site

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