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Have Van, Will Travel
Q & A with the women behind C.A.R.E.
Lisa Mendelsberg (left) and Linda Fox with C.A.R.E.'s precious cargo.

It’s a simple truth that a homeless dog in the South or the Midwest may have a better chance of finding a good adoptive home in the Northeast or cities in the West. For these dogs in overcrowded, under-funded shelters, transportation can mean the difference between life and death.

When Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska adopted Kit and Holly from a rescue in Kentucky over Christmas, she learned the shelter had a program for sending dogs to new homes in the North but not out West where she lives. A little more digging to find a ride for the puppies revealed a formal and informal network of individuals and organizations with planes, trucks and automobiles working together—supported by countless Internet posters and email blasters—to get dogs to places where their future is brighter.

Inspired and intrigued by this grassroots cooperative effort, TheBark.com will be talking to folks who are part of this underdog railroad. We begin with Linda Fox, transport coordinator, and Lisa Mendelsberg, program administrator, for Colorado Animal Rescue Express (C.A.R.E.), a 501c3 public charity.

At least once a week, C.A.R.E. drivers provide safe transport for homeless dogs and cats in the Midwest to Colorado, where rescue organizations have promised to find them new homes or where adoptive families are already waiting. Through Jake’s Fund, C.A.R.E. also provides help, when possible, with veterinary expenses and spay/neuter procedures. C.A.R.E also collects donations of food and supplies and delivers them to shelters and rescues. In the two years since C.A.R.E. began, Fox, Mendelsberg and an army of dedicated volunteers have logged more than 245,000 miles to bring 3,993 dogs and 345 cats to 96 rescues.

In May, we talked with Linda Fox, while she drove in a three-van convoy through a rainstorm more than 300 miles to Hays, Kansas. She was on the pick-up leg of what would be C.A.R.E.'s biggest transport to date—73 dogs from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. In early June, we caught up with Lisa Mendelsberg, who was working on grant requests to cover the costs of the transports. They talked to us about the logistics, challenges and joys of transport.

TheBark.com: How did you get started?
Lisa Mendelsberg: We both volunteered for Golden Retriever Freedom Rescue in Colorado and met at a holiday party in December 2004. At that time, Linda was arranging intake and providing the transport for Golden Retrievers coming in from out of state. I started driving with her and it was evident that we felt our transports could help all breeds of dogs. We formed C.A.R.E. in June 2007 to provide lifesaving transport to all dogs and cats with rescue commitments.  

Bark: How do dogs get onto a transport?
Linda Fox: Most of the dogs come on our transports because rescuers network the dogs on the Internet. For example, pictures and bios of dogs needing homes in Holton, Kansas, would be sent to me and to the other rescuers and we post them on our rescue network. Once rescuers in Colorado say they’ll accept a dog in their program, the shelter or rescue group sends me all the pertinent travel information, assurance that a Health Certificate will be obtained, and then transport is arranged as soon as possible.

Bark: Who pays for transportation?
Fox: C.A.R.E. runs on individual and rescue donations, grants and fundraisers. It costs an average of $26 to transport each dog to safety. We continuously need to fundraise.

 

The transports are expensive. We pay for rental vans in multiple cities, insurance, gasoline and we cover our drivers’ out-of-pocket expenses. This transport today to move the 73 dogs will be more than $1,300.

Bark: Where do the vans come from?
Fox: We rent cargo vans from Enterprise. We analyzed buying a van, but for safety reasons, it is better to rent with inspections and cleanings before each trip. Also, if we were to break down, Enterprise would respond with delivery of a similar vehicle. If we owned our own van, can you imagine trying to check into a hotel with 30 dogs while it was being repaired?!

Bark: Who are your passengers?
Mendelsberg: Dogs and cats come primarily from high-kill shelters, owner surrenders and from other rescue organizations. We are also fortunate to be able to transport dogs being released from puppy mills. This year because the economy has been so challenging, we’re transporting a lot of dogs that have been abandoned when people move, the ones that are the silent victims of the economy.

Bark: What does it mean for the dogs in Colorado when you bring dogs in from out of state? Or put another way, why shouldn’t regions take care of their own dogs?

Fox: I do think there will always be the need to transport some animals to safety. In the second half of 2009, Lisa and I will be working with our strong Midwest contacts to help them utilize the existing resources in their own communities. We will work with them to educate their local citizens on the benefits of sterilizing their pets, thereby reducing the number of unwanted litters and animals that will be euthanized in shelters.

What does it mean for the dogs in Colorado? The rescues that I talk to say shelters in Colorado are doing a good job of getting the dogs adopted. In the rural and remote areas, options for rescue and adoption are not very easy. If some dogs need transport instate from a rural area to a metro area, C.A.R.E. will help cover the cost of transport. Sadly, there are still dogs being euthanized in Colorado and Midwest shelters.
 
 

Mendelsberg: Each dog that we transport has a rescue commitment. Our network has dedicated individuals and organizations in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas that work diligently to save the homeless animals in their area. The purpose of C.A.R.E. is taking a dog from a place where they have virtually no chance of being adopted and moving them to areas where they will go into rescues and have visibility and be placed correctly and hopefully permanently. We are just fortunate to have the resources in Colorado to help our neighboring states with their pet overpopulation.

Bark: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the fact that there is this constant supply of dogs needing new homes?
Fox: I do feel that every day. You try to look at the good side rather than dwell on the bad. You think about the success stories and the wonderful new homes for these dogs that have come to Colorado rescues. Of course, you think about the ones you could not save, and then you start over working on obtaining rescue commitments for more homeless dogs.

Mendelsberg: Absolutely, I feel that we’re making a difference for the dogs we are able to save through our C.A.R.E. transports and Jake’s Fund distributions. However, basically what we are doing is just a Band-Aid for the overpopulation dilemma. We have learned that people must be educated on the necessity for sterilization and we are hoping our new C.A.R.E. brochure on spay/neuter will have some impact. We also are raising the awareness that people should adopt from shelters and rescues instead of buying from the pet stores. 

Bark: What other goals do you have for C.A.R.E.?
Fox & Mendelsberg: Our key focus besides transport and Jake’s Fund is to really work with our excellent rescue contacts in the Midwest and help them help themselves more than just relying on C.A.R.E. to move the homeless animals to Colorado. We will be working on setting up and helping to fund spay/neuter events. We will work with veterinarians in these areas to offer their local population affordable spay and neuter procedures. Last, we’re hoping our new spay/neuter brochure will debunk some of the myths on sterilization and make people realize the best thing they can do for their pets is to get them sterilized.
 
Bark: Does your work for C.A.R.E. take a lot of time?
Fox & Mendelsberg: C.A.R.E. is a team success. We’re the engines but we rely so much on good assessments of the dogs, our tireless drivers, and all the rescuers who take these dogs into their programs. Everybody is a hard worker and makes such a special effort to assure the safety and comfort of those travelling. It takes a community to save one of these dogs. To make this work, we need an army of people committed. It’s total cooperation among so many people who put the dog’s best interest and well being first.  Surely the Internet, digital cameras and cell phones have contributed to the rescue of countless animals from places where it would be hard for them to find a second chance at a real family life.
 
Why do we do this? We all love the dogs. It's not the dogs that are lucky; it’s the people who are getting the dogs that are lucky to have their lives so enriched. These animals have been through so much but they are so forgiving and so resilient. There is so much that can be learned from these wonderful rescue animals.  

 

C.A.R.E. is always looking for volunteers to help with driving, fundraising, and educating the public on the necessity for spay/neuter.

 

To learn more about C.A.R.E., see photos of dogs saved through transport, and find out how you can support them, visit www.caretransport.org. Donations can be made online at or by mail to C.A.R.E., 5276 South Hanover Way, Englewood, CO 80111.

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