How One Group Is Ferrying Rescue Pets Home in Wisconsin

BRATS transports homeless pets of all species and breeds within its home state of Wisconsin.

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Badger Rescue Animal Transport Services (whose name honors the “Badger state”) is a shelter animal transport organization headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis. Since the group’s inception, the BRATS co-founders have forged relationships with volunteers, rescue groups and shelters to achieve a common goal — ending the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals in Wisconsin shelters.

Lynn Mitchell, one of BRATS’ co-founders, started in rescue in 2000 after adopting a Golden Retriever from a breed rescue. She ended up volunteering for the rescue in various roles. “I ended up doing a lot of transporting,” she says, “And every time I’d go to the shelters, I’d see all the other non-purebred dogs that I knew weren’t going to see tomorrow.”

One day Mitchell got a phone call from one of the other co-founders, who said, “OK, I bought a van. You’ve got a million connections. Let’s start this thing up!” And that was the beginning. October 2008 saw BRATS’ first transport, a dog named Star, out of a local shelter. And in the six years after that, BRATS has gone on to transport more than 11,000 local animals.

Strictly local

BRATS is an all-volunteer transport organization, and its mission is to save homeless pets within Wisconsin state boundaries.

“Wisconsin’s a big state. I don’t think many people realize that,” Mitchell says. It takes seven hours to drive across the state from north to south, she adds. “And for us, there are so many animals here that need to get moved around, so we said, ‘No, we’re just going to cut it off here.’”

Moving animals in state is more efficient and cheaper than taking them out of state, and by staying in-state, BRATS organizers were eventually able to recognize trends in their local shelters and rescues.

“Let’s say one shelter might do really well with Beagles, and another shelter will do really great with Huskies,” Mitchell says. “If the one with the Beagles ends up with a bunch of Huskies, we know what to do with them. We’ve (also) got one partner on the receiving end that will take any medical case” and treat sick animals.

With time, transport organizations learn these trends and can make quick but educated decisions on what animal should go where.

COURTESY OF LYNN MITCHELL Mitchell adopted Rocky in 2010, and he is always happy and wagging his tail.
COURTESY OF LYNN MITCHELL
Mitchell adopted Rocky in 2010, and he is always happy and wagging his tail.

BRATS can also better understand problems specific to Wisconsin and try to change local laws. Mitchell explains that one major problem in Wisconsin, like many other areas, is feral cats. Feral cats can be humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, and then released back to where they came from. Trap-neuter-return cuts down on the feral cat population without euthanasia (feral cats are generally not adopted because they are not friendly toward people). TNR is not legal in Milwaukee except on a very limited trial basis with the Wisconsin Humane Society.

“Milwaukee Animal Control can bring in 800 to 900 cats in a month, and that’s crazy,” says Mitchell. “Until TNR is more readily accepted in the big metropolitan areas of Wisconsin, there are going to be a lot of cats.”

Volunteer support

A few volunteers are needed to update the BRATS Facebook page and to schedule transports through Yahoo Groups, but most volunteers are drivers. For the safety of the 20 or so regular volunteer drivers, BRATS suggests that they get a tetanus shot, and they have the sending shelter and receiving rescues handle the animals, placing them in the car and taking them out. “We just move (the animals) crate and all, and on the receiving end, we have (the receiving rescue) pull them out,” Mitchell says.

While driving down I-94, volunteers often fall in love with an animal on board. “A lot of drivers have seen animals on our transport and gone on to adopt them,” Mitchell says, explaining that this happened to her twice. She met Trixie and Rocky, her bully mixes, while coordinating transports out of Milwaukee Animal Control.

COURTESY OF LYNN MITCHELL/BRATS BRATS’ Bridget Bannon, Mary Ann Riggs, Lorraine Sweeney, Laura Nigbur, Lynn Mitchell, Phil Beitz and Liz Brewer with pit bull Sugar, BRATS’ 5,000th transport.
COURTESY OF LYNN MITCHELL/BRATS
BRATS’ Bridget Bannon, Mary Ann Riggs, Lorraine Sweeney, Laura Nigbur, Lynn Mitchell, Phil Beitz and Liz Brewer with pit bull Sugar, BRATS’ 5,000th transport.

Positive changes

Mitchell has seen many positive steps toward ending the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals in her state. “The big thing that we’re seeing is the acceptance of pit bulls,” she says. “When we first started, people never took them. I mean never. It was the biggest segment of what we were seeing in the shelters. We got vocal about it, and some other people got vocal about it, and before you know it, we’re seeing a huge increase in the transfers of that particular breed.”

Mitchell believes that positive exposure to these dogs is causing the shift in public opinion. “It wasn’t until I started working with (pit bulls), moving them around and touching them and bringing them home with me, that I realized that these are great dogs.”

Thanks to BRATS’ six years of dedication, Wisconsin shelters and rescues are now aware that transport not only exists, but also that it really works. “The shelters — even the ones that were a little hesitant in the beginning — now say, ‘Oh, just call BRATS.’”

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Cassandra Radcliff

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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