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Rescue Road Trips gives dogs in transit a loving and hopeful environment en route to their future.
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It’s Saturday — a very special Saturday that Greg Mahle calls “Gotcha Day.” He pulls his 48-foot cargo trailer, with “Rescue Road Trips” emblazoned on the side, into a Putnam, Conn., parking lot — the last of Rescue Road Trips’ many predetermined meeting spots. He sees a small crowd of cheering people with signs that read “Welcome home, Misty” and “Bella, welcome to Connecticut.” Mahle has been driving for days, and his precious cargo is rescue dogs — loving pets for the lucky people standing before him.
The dogs exiting his trailer in Connecticut are almost done with their journey, but Mahle isn’t even close. In just a few days, he’ll repeat his 4,200-mile round trip through 15 states to pick up dogs rescued from overcrowded high-kill shelters in the South and transport them to the North to their new adoptive families. The journey is a long and exhausting one, but Mahle shows no signs of slowing down.
When Mahle, owner of Rescue Road Trips, started in transport, he had no idea the road that lay ahead of him. One day soon after he retired from the restaurant business, he got a call from a rescue, asking him to help a sleepy driver finish transporting a van of dogs through his hometown in Ohio and on to Connecticut. “It sounded intriguing,” he says, “so I did it.”
Everything started from there. It began small and grew. Now, 10 years later, Mahle’s transport process is streamlined and efficient.
Mahle explains how Rescue Road Trips works: If a northern rescue wants a dog to go on transport, they visit the website and fill out a reservation. “It lets me know where the dog is, who the dog’s coming from, where the dog’s going to and who the dog’s going to,” he says. “It also gives me a little information about the dog’s size, weight (and) breed, so I can know what to expect when I get there.” The rescues include the transport cost in the adoption fees.
Mahle likens his route to a bus route. “You can’t deliver dogs door-to-door because that would just take you forever,” he explains. Instead, he has designated parking-lot stops that service all major cities in New England. “If you’re from Hartford, Conn., I have a drop-off close to you. If you’re from Manhattan, I have a drop-off that is close.”
Once a dog is signed up to go on a Rescue Road Trips transport, many stops lie ahead on the road to his permanent, loving home. After being taken out of a high-kill shelter in the South, dogs are held in a foster home, quarantine facility, vet’s office or kennel for two weeks to make sure they’re healthy before transport. RRT’s strict rules for transport ensure the safety of all the dogs and people onboard and at the destination.
RRT makes many stops along the way to the North, where they pick up more dogs, and break for potty, water and tummy rubs. Each week approximately 250 to 300 volunteers meet up with the RRT trailer at predetermined stops to help walk the dogs and give them some TLC.
The volunteers do so much more than just take a dog for a walk. They give the dogs reassurance and socialize them. They let the dogs know that people are not there to hurt them.
“You need that dog to come out (of the trailer) happy and excited and bouncy and clean when it meets the family,” Mahle says. “You need those first few seconds to be just perfect so that love is set in stone. By giving a rough ride north, letting it ride in a dirty crate, not touching it, not handling it, you’re setting the dog up to fail. Nobody wants a dog that’s scared. Nobody wants a dog that’s dirty. The volunteers along the way have helped set up that dog to win.”
When it’s just Mahle, the co-driver and the dogs in the trailer, they all bond with one another, sometimes so much so that Mahle can remember them forever.
“There are so many memorable dogs,” Mahle says. “And there are dogs that you remember that you couldn’t save,” referring to those he couldn’t transport. “When I close my eyes at night, I can still see some of them.”
Near the end of the trip, everyone in the trailer knows each other, knows what’s going on and works as a unit, Mahle says. “We start loading dogs on Wednesday. By Friday, (we) have become one pack. We know each other.” On Friday nights, the trailer is teeming with life. It’s like the dogs know that something really good is coming. They just don’t know what it is yet.
When drop-off day — Gotcha Day — comes around, Mahle posts on the Rescue Road Trips Facebook page if he’s on time or if he’ll be late to a drop-off spot. On a 4,200-mile trip, traffic, construction, accidents or weather often cause delays.
Surprisingly, RRT has never canceled a transport, although weather has postponed a few runs. Even after once getting stranded with dogs for 2.5 days in a Virginia snowstorm, Mahle doesn’t hesitate to get on the road if snow is in the forecast.
When he reaches a parking lot drop-off point, Mahle hops out and greets the crowd with a beaming smile, even though he’s exhausted and just wants to sleep in his own bed.
“It feels good to see the people,” he says. “When the dog comes out of the trailer, the person squeals and they do a little bit of a jump. I put the dog in their arms, and I know this dog is set for life. This was a dog that was thrown away like trash or was wandering on the street and had no hope at all, and I get to see the first minutes of the rest of that dog’s life and get to know that this dog will be well taken care of forever.”
When Mahle hands the last dog to the last adopter, it’s a bittersweet moment. He’s happy he transported another 80-plus dogs out of kill shelters to loving families, but he knows what’s in store for him that night. The night after the last dog gets out is the worst night of each trip.
“That trailer has held so much life for the whole week,” he says. “I’ve lived in it. I’ve slept in it. There are dogs rustling in crates, there are tails thumping, there’s breathing. There’s just life in there, and you can feel it. In Putnam, Conn., the last dog gets out, and there’s no life in that trailer at all, and it’s a sound and a feeling that I really, really dislike.”
Once the dogs are dropped off at one of the meeting spots, they have just one more place to go — their permanent homes. Mahle hustles home and does it all over again. Since 2005, Rescue Road Trips has transported more than 35,000 animals out of high-kill shelters and into permanent, loving homes all because of Mahle’s years of trial and error, dedication and perseverance, and his unending energy and kindness.
Photo Credit: Top art via the Rescue Road Trips Facebook page.
Cassandra is an editor and writer based out of Orange County, Calif. She lives with her rescued cat, Pickles, who loves to “talk.” While Pickles is her only pet now, Cassandra is a long-time rescuer. She also volunteers her time walking dogs and socializing cats at local shelters, and was a “shelter scout” for guinea pigs. When not caring for animals, Cassandra spends her spare time hiking, bird watching and restoring local habitats as a volunteer at Orange County parks and beaches.
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