Volunteers take pets to new homes

Riding to the rescue

The puppy turned out to be a bother, an inconvenience. So his owners posted an advertisement on Craigslist.


Price wasn't a factor. They'd let anyone take Gelly, the rambunctious 17-pound Boston terrier, off their hands.

That's the mindset that most scared Jill Lanford, a volunteer with Boston Terrier Rescue of South Carolina. Dogs given away without concern often end up in kennels, neglectful homes or worse.

So Lanford answered the ad with an ulterior motive. She took Gelly in as a foster puppy at her home in Florence, S.C., until she could find a permanent place for him. When a young family near Athens, Ga., volunteered, she realized distance was the problem.

How can a dog make it to a permanent home that is hundreds of miles away?

Lanford turned to a vital tool for rescue groups across the country -- a band of volunteers connected by e-mail listserves who raise their hands to help transport a dog when it comes through their city.

Across Augusta and beyond, there is a network of animal lovers who communicate by e-mail and phone to organize transport for rescued animals. These are people with families and full-time jobs and with no connection to the animal or each other, who take turns driving legs of a route until an animal is home.

Susie Cobb, of North Augusta, founded the rescue where Lanford volunteers. When she finds an adoptive family for a dog, she sends out a string of e-mails asking for help. Those get passed to her contacts and then on to their contacts.

"They will usually do it in legs like a relay race, where one person keeps handing the dog off to the next one," Cobb said. "It's a lifeline for these animals that are in shelters and trying to end up somewhere else."

Cobb receives dozens of e-mails a day from other transporters asking for help, and she sends out her fair share.

The people who respond volunteer their time and money. They can drive up to 100 miles or more with gas creeping to $4 a gallon, and they receive no reimbursement.

That's how Gelly ended up at his final home near Athens -- because of across state lines.

Cobb's Boston Terrier Rescue of South Carolina sent out mass e-mails asking for help to get Gelly from Florence to Jefferson, Ga.

A group of five strangers responded, exchanged phone numbers and got on the road.

LANFORD STARTED AT 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning with Gelly in the front seat of her Volkswagen Jetta. She's a pharmacy technician who works varying hours throughout the week.

When a dog needs transporting, Lanford, 27, spends her Saturdays driving.

That weekend, she drove 60 miles from Florence to exit 87 on Interstate 20, east of Columbia.

The drive took her almost two hours round trip and a good chunk of gas, but that's not what was on her mind.

"A lot of people don't get it," Lanford said. "They think a dog is a dog, but it's different. I feel that every dog has a place that he's meant to be, and to have a part in getting that dog where they belong is an amazing feeling."

Waiting for Lanford at a truck stop off exit 87 was Tasha Derrick, 30, an accountant at a children's museum in Columbia and a total stranger to Lanford.

Derrick was finishing work the Friday before when her iPhone beeped with an e-mail.

It was Cobb asking for a driver to complete a leg of Gelly's transport.

Derrick became involved in rescues after adopting her first dog in 2009.

The experience made her want to do something when she thought of all the animals that are euthanized because they can't find a way to a new home.

When Lanford's Jetta pulled in to the gas station, the women chatted briefly, let Gelly stretch his legs and then Derrick hit the road.

It was about an hour drive to his next stop, and Gelly spent the time in the backseat with a blanket and toys.

"I can be in the car with the dog for an hour and get attached to them, so it's kind of neat to do a little part of their adoption process," Derrick said.

When they pulled off the interstate in Gilbert, S.C., more than 40 miles later, another volunteer was waiting.

Derrick passed Gelly along to Valerie Smith, a stranger to her but a volunteer with Boston Terrier Rescue.

Smith drove Gelly to exit 1 in North Augusta, where Cobb was waiting.

SINCE SHE LAUNCHED the rescue organization in November, Cobb and her volunteers have rescued almost 70 dogs, with transport playing a major role in their adoptions.

And while Cobb was able to work with her own volunteers, who are spread from Georgia to Maryland, for Gelly's rescue, there are hundreds of other groups that participate in the transports.

The e-mails that are distributed reach people from all states and organizations. Often, a volunteer with one rescue will work with another person who may not even be affiliated with any organization.

Connie Corzilious Spaffer, for example, is a member of the CSRA Humane Society in Augusta but helps with transport for any rescue that needs a driver.

She receives almost 200 e-mails a day asking for help and then forwards them to the contacts she thinks might be able to drive a leg of the trip.

When gas prices got steep, she multitasked by offering to transport a dog that needed to get to the Atlanta area each time she drove to visit her daughter at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"You wouldn't really expect all that communication to be going on all the time," Spaffer said of the e-mail lists. "It's just a wide group of people who want to help animals."

That kind of communication is what allowed Gelly to reach the final leg of his trip, with Cobb picking him up in North Augusta and driving 20 minutes to a gas station off the Grovetown exit of I-20.

AWAITING THEM there was Carissa DiCindio, who would take Gelly to his new home.

DiCindio and her husband, Patrick Yaggy, have another Boston terrier, Nutella, and a 5-month-old child, Graham, at home in Jefferson.

They had been wanting a playmate for their other dog and felt the time was right with the recent birth of their child.

When DiCindio first saw her new dog, she felt relieved she was able to save him.

She piled him in her car, thanked Cobb and drove about an hour-and-a-half back to a place where Gelly would never again face abandonment.

During the drive, DiCindio glanced in her back seat.

"He was just the cutest thing ever, and I immediately fell in love with him," she said. "To think he could have not found a home."

As Gelly panted happily, DiCindio could have sworn he was smiling.

And so was she.

Want to help?

To volunteer as a foster pet owner, transport driver or donor, visit Boston Terrier Rescue of South Carolina at bostonrescueofsc.org/index.html or e-mail suzycobb@gmail.com.

To participate in regional transports or to be added to volunteer list serves, there are several resources.

Anyone can contact rescue groups in a city to see if they need assistance in transports. For a list, go to augustachronicle.com.

To be added to regional transport list serves and message boards, visit: trucknpaws.com, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OnTheRoadAgain/ or roadsofhope.org.



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