AHeinz57 Provides Pets With a Pit Stop on Their Rescue Road Trip

One organization has set up a cozy stopping point for dogs in transport and a sanctuary for unwanted dogs.

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Like the mixes of dogs it serves and saves, AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport is part transport and part rescue, literally bridging the distance between traditional shelters and no-kill rescue groups across the Midwest and into Canada.

Amy Heinz — founder, president and executive director of AHeinz57 — ran her organization out of her garage for more than a year, but in the fall of 2010, she leased an old veterinary clinic in De Soto, Iowa, and opened the Pit Stop. The Pit Stop is a place where dogs can make a quick stop for a break during their transport from high-volume shelters to other rescues or foster homes. Other dogs stay until their kennel cough clears or for other reasons. Heinz says this rest stop is the reason her organization really took off.

The journey begins

Before dogs ever make it to the Pit Stop, their transports are organized. Each week AHeinz57 and other partner rescues receive emails from shelters with photos of the dogs scheduled to be euthanized. The rescue partners tell  Transport Coordinator Barb Krimminger what dogs they want, and she sets up the transports, usually every Saturday.

“She is a miracle worker,” Heinz says, praising Krimminger. “She gets requests from all over the place to get dogs on this transport … She works out every single detail all the way to their destination.”

AHeinz57 has three vehicles that are equipped specifically for the safe transport of 20-plus dogs each, and some volunteers use their own vehicles for transports. Each week, Krimminger sends email blasts to the transport network, and volunteers sign up for various legs of the journey. “We have about 370 people signed up as volunteers,” Heinz says, but she estimates that, like in any volunteer organization, about 20 percent are active.

The vans and crates are scrubbed down every Friday night at the Pit Stop, and on Saturday morning, volunteer drivers hit the road. The dogs meet in Bethany, Mo., for the regular transport up to the Pit Stop in De Soto, Iowa. Some dogs stay at the Pit Stop, but others just stop for a quick break, then go to a foster home or head up to Clear Lake, Iowa, and continue on their way from there as far north as Minneapolis or as far south as Kansas City, Mo.


COURTESY OF AHEINZ57 AHeinz57's state-of-the-art vans allow volunteers to transport rescue animals safely and comfortably.
AHeinz57’s state-of-the-art vans allow volunteers to transport rescue animals safely and comfortably.

Brief stop or extended stay

The dogs who stay at the Pit Stop are housed in separate rooms (based on how they get along) where they can learn house training and manners. They get to hang out, watch TV, chew on toys, enjoy the dog run in the back and get lots of love from people. Unlike the shelters these dogs came from, there are no cages. Instead, the building is set up to be as much like a home environment as possible. The only time the dogs are alone is overnight.

“We have different things going on throughout the week at the Pit Stop,” Heinz says, “so they’re not sitting there by themselves all week.” Special-needs kids come in three times a week in the afternoons to play with the dogs, for example. And Wednesday night is training night. Four trainers come in and teach the dogs how to walk on a leash, sit and do tricks. “Dogs who know tricks are dogs who get adopted faster,” Heinz notes.

The Pit Stop is a vital part of the AHeinz57 organization. “It makes you more reputable to have a brick-and-mortar building,” Heinz says. “People didn’t really take us seriously until we got the Pit Stop. We have a place for the transports to meet … they have a place to go instead of right into somebody’s home, so if they do have something like kennel cough, they can just stay there until they’re healed.”

The Pit Stop, in addition to being a temporary holding place for dogs in transport, is also sanctuary for dogs no one will foster. “Right now we have three particular dogs that are stuck there,” Heinz says. One is named Cooper/Hank. “He left us as a puppy named Cooper and came back as an adult named Hank, so we call him Cooper/Hank to keep his paperwork straight.”

This handsome 1-year-old hound-shepherd mix is a happy-go-lucky, loving, long-legged and long-eared dog that gets along with everyone. He knows basic commands and loves to play fetch. Sounds like a great dog, right? Well, Cooper/Hank isn’t housetrained. He drinks a lot and pees a lot! And because AHeinz57 doesn’t adopt out dogs who will live outside, no one has made the commitment to take him in.

“He pees like no other dog pees,” Heinz says. “He pees all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with him. We’ve done blood work, we’ve done urinalysis and we’ve done X-rays to see if he has bladder stones. If you look at his blood work and all the other tests we’ve done on him, he’s in superior health. He’s an incredibly healthy dog. But he pees, and nobody wants that!”

A pit bull named Hugh Hefner also lives at the Pit Stop. “He’s a lover boy,” Heinz says.

Heinz sees a lot of black Labs, black Lab mixes and pit bulls go through her organization. Pit bulls, she says, “are very hard to adopt out. (Hugh Hefner) is the sweetest dog you’d ever meet, and nobody ever applies for him because he’s a pit bull.”

In addition to housing dogs at the Pit Stop and coordinating and transporting dogs to other rescues, AHeinz57 directly adopts to residents of Iowa and parts of Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska. Cooper/Hank, Hugh Hefner, other Pit Stop dogs and about 120 other dogs in foster care in the Des Moines area are available for adoption through AHeinz57.

COURTESY OF AHEINZ57 AHeinz57 volunteers find that certain types of dogs, including black Labs and pit bulls like Hugh Hefner, are difficult to adopt.
AHeinz57 volunteers find that certain types of dogs, including black Labs and pit bulls like Hugh Hefner, are difficult to adopt.

A bright future

There is a lot in store for AHeinz57. The third transport van just arrived. “Mercedes-Benz of Des Moines is giving us the use of a Mercedes Sprinter van for a year,” Heinz says, “and they (wrapped) it with our logo. It’s beautiful. We’re going to have fully upholstered seats!” she laughs, explaining that she thinks “somebody” took a bite out of one of the seats in their older van. The new van provides 500 more cubic square feet of cargo space, so the organization can transport even more dogs each week.

Heinz also has a new senior program in the works. The idea is to pull older shelter dogs and place them with seniors on fixed incomes. High school seniors who need volunteer hours for school will help care for the dogs, and the group will pay for all of the dog’s expenses.

“It’s a win-win-win all the way around,” Heinz says. “The dogs don’t die, the senior people get a companion and they get a young visitor, and the young visitor gets time with a senior person, which can only benefit them.”

AHeinz57 has transported more than 5,500 dogs out of kill shelters since its inception in 2008, and nothing can stop Heinz now. “Dogs don’t have a voice, and people need to give them that voice,” she says. And being that voice is what keeps Heinz going.

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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