Shelter Transport Saves Dogs and Can Save Us From Our Own Biases

transport saves lives lenawee_

In this episode of the Individual Animal, we dive deep into the process of shelter transports. We talk about how to get the process rolling, why it’s safer than you might think it is, and why it’s good for dogs and people. 

Listen to the episode and drop us a comment on Facebook to talk about the issue.

Hi and welcome to the latest episode of the Individual Animal a podcast about dogs, people, and discrimination.

A few months back, we did an episode of the Individual Animal where we spoke with Chris Bender about his experiences doing shelter transports. The response to that was mixed, with some people commenting that it was life-saving for the animals in their shelter and others commenting that transporting meant that dogs at the destination were going to suffer at the expense of the transport dogs. Others made the wild and unsubstantiated claim that shelter transport within the U.S. caused diseases to spread.

Within the group of organizations who do transport dogs from other communities, there are a subset that do not transport “pit bull” dogs. This is because they follow the self-fulfilling prophecy that there’s a “pit bull” problem or worse, that they subscribe to Roger Haston’s belief that “these are the dogs nobody wants.”

What Sasha Wilkerson and the rest of the great folks at the Lenawee Humane Society found is the simple truth that transporting dogs from one community to another saves lives. It’s good for dogs and it’s good for adopters.

It’s also good to step outside of your own community and find out what reality is like for other communities who might not have your resources.

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Regina [00:00:00] Hi and welcome to the Individual Animal a podcast about dogs people and discrimination. I am Regina and that’s Nikki. 


Nikki [00:00:09] Hi guys. Thanks for listening. Today we’re going to be talking about transports and our guest today is Sasha Wilkerson. I’ll let her tell you what she does and who she works for. So Sasha…. 


Sasha [00:00:26] Yeah. Thanks for having me so I am the communications manager for the Lenawee Humane Society and my heart is here. I’ve been with this organization for 14 years which is a really really long time. I actually started volunteering here as a teenager and then this became my college job and I never left. So if you love something you don’t leave it. 


Sasha [00:00:51] So I’ve kind of watched our shelter turn… You know we started off as a really old fashioned shelter. We were really strict with who we adopted animals out to. We adopted out maybe 300 animals a year. And granted we’re a really small shelter. But as of last year, we finally hit a thousand adoptions. So we’ve definitely changed and grown a lot and we have realized that it’s not just us here in the animal welfare world even though we’re the only shelter in our county. We’re part of a bigger national issue and so we’ve really reached out and bonded with a lot of national groups that have taught us a lot of things and helped us grow and in turn. 


Nikki [00:01:33] So when did you guys start really developing your transport program. 


Sasha [00:01:38] So we started growing and changing… I would say probably about six years ago. We got a new director in here and so she came with a new frame of mind and she was a lot more open and ready to do a lot more progressive things, I should say. So we started doing a lot of trainings. We started going to a lot of national conferences where we started learning about transports and about this huge national issue. And we learned that you know so we thought that we were struggling. You know we were the worst the worst. But once we got on a level where we started comparing ourselves to other shelters we realized we actually had a lot that we could offer to other people. So once we started realizing that even though we’re just a tiny shelter and there’s a lot that we still could do then we jumped into the transport family. 


Sasha [00:02:35] So I want to say maybe about t2015-ish, we really started getting into it. And it’s been great ever since. 


Nikki [00:02:44] So the reason that we wanted to talk is because what we’ve been noticing with organizations that take from other shelters and organizations that transpor from shelter to shelter …what we’ve seen is the majority have breed restriction policies. So it’s sometimes at the receiving shelter, sometimes it’s the transport organization. But there’s many different excuses as to why they do this. But what we have found when we work with our local falter and what Sasha is going to talk to us about today is they take all dogs of all shapes, sizes, colors, labels, anything and have no issues adopting out any of the dogd. So did you start out that way in 2015? were you guys like, “lright we’re just taking whatever…” 


Sasha [00:03:44] No we did not. And actually so the whole concept of transport was a little bit crazy to even talk about. So I kind of want to talk about our setup a little bit if that’s OK and how that kind of came to happen. So like I said we’re the only shelter in our county. Now we are not a county… Like we’re not a municipal shelter. So we do have our own local animal control but they don’t have their own building. So we contract cage space out to them. And so when we first got our new director and we started dropping like regulation I wouldn’t say regulation but restrictions right like we didn’t force people to have a fenced-in yard. So we started being a little bit more lenient with how we were placing these animals, which also meant that because we knew that we could place more animals we worked harder to make that happen. 


[00:04:39] So in the past our budget was shot. So like if we had a positive dog it wasn’t a dog that we could place up for adoption because we didnt have the money to treat it. So we did have a higher euthanasia rate even though we still considered ourself a no kill shelter. We weren’t euthanizing for space, so we could still label ourselves as that. So once we started saving more animals, these animals were staying in our shelter longer which meant that we weren’t able to take as many animals from Animal Control… It kind of all tied together. So our local animal control, we had an issue with them at first for a couple of years. They started getting really frustrated with us and they stopped bringing stray dogs to us. Well that’s kind of the number one way that we were getting our animals either strays or owner surrenders. 


[00:05:30] So once those strays stopped coming in the door we realized we had a lot of empty kennels and we needed to figure out a way to utilize them because our new director she was like “listen if that’s an empty kennel that’s the life that we’re not saving.” And so that really hit home with us. And so once we started going to these conferences and learning that transport was the new way to help. If those dogs weren’t coming in from our own county, maybe we could help other counties out. And so that’s how we started getting into it. 


[00:06:02] And so we were still getting you know a trickle of strays coming in that were you know “pit bulls” or “big power breeds.”  And they still had the reputation of you know “don’t go adopt those dogs. They’re not safe.” So we were getting those dogs that were staying here for a long time. So to even consider going to another shelter and pulling those type of dogs, our county would not have it. They were like “you won’t even help the ones here. How dare you pull them from another state?” 


[00:06:31] And so we started doing it slowly. And it started on our end… We really had to change the reputation first. And so once we started putting a positive spin on these bully breeds and you know bettering their reputation that we were putting out there and then we realized these dogs are actually moving pretty fast. And what’s keeping us from helping them from other counties and even states? 


[00:06:55] So it was definitely a really slow process and we had to do a lot on our own end to make that possible. But now we have people coming and requesting these type of dogs as family dogs. 


Nikki [00:07:05] Awesome! I love that that you guys realized at some point in this, that part of the reason dogs weren’t getting adopted is because of the perception that you were telling the public. Once you changed the way you showcased your dogs just like you’re marketing all the other dogs in your care, people started to see that that these dogs are just like every other dog in your shelter and are great companions.


Sasha [00:07:39] Yes and I think that was the main point. Because you know if people are coming into a shelter and they’re seeing nothing but you know “blocky headed bully breed” dogs they’re thinking “OK. There’s an issue with those types of dogs because you have so many people might not want them.” So we work really really hard on our marketing and our social media to promote these dogs you know hanging out on your lap and riding in your car. You know things that you want to do in your life to have fun we’re showing that you can do the same thing with these dogs. 


[00:08:08] So people are coming in and they’re like “I’ve seen that ‘pit bull’ yesterday you know on your on a live video and I want it.” So, they’re not staying around here long. And then of course we dropped breed labels and that’s been huge… thanks to you guys, by the way, thank you for that.


Regina [00:08:27] Yeah. I’m so happy to hear that and so you know that’s one of the biggest push backs we get is “well but the public wants to know the label” or “the public thinks x y z” and making me feel like I’m always banging my head against the wall. The public thinks that because you’re doing a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you change the public will follow. It may take a little bit of time but it will happen. 


Sasha [00:08:52] That’s right. And that’s what we’re here as representatives of these animals. They depend on us to help out with their reputations and to put them in a positive light because if we don’t believe in them how can we expect the public to. 


Regina [00:09:07] I tell you what you’re dropping so many good like quotes that are…. I’m going to start doing quotes on our Instagram like you know those little inspirational quotes… And I’m just I’m going to steal a whole bunch from you. 


Nikki [00:09:27] So, you’re doing this great job. Your marketing all your dogs really well… I mean your kennels are looking emptier and emptier. So is that when you guys decided you need to just take more dogs or were you taking dogs already? 


Sasha [00:09:41] So we started off slowly with transports. So we’re not very far from Detroit Michigan. And as a lot of people probably know, Detroit has a huge issue with “pittie” type dogs. And so we were like well you know what. Why don’t we start there. And so we do have a rescue group in Detroit that we work with pretty closely. Sometimes they were getting really beat up, nasty dogs with injuries. Some of them had behavior issues. But we would start taking one or two at a time. and then once we did a good job and rehoming that dog then we would go back for more and then we realized, you know what, this isn’t as hard as it seems. 


[00:10:23] So when we got hooked up with Dekalb in Georgia, they were like “So do you guys have any restrictions on what you’ll take?” And we’re like “you know if you’ve got really cute ones or young ones we would prefer those because they go the fastest but show us what you got.” And so what we ended up doing is getting into a groove where they were showing us videos and pictures of these dogs. So at this point we’re like, “So do you got a big friendly dog that loves other dogs?” At this point we don’t even care about the breed. We’re just going with personality because if we can it’s almost like supply and demand right. So like if we know that we’ve got a family that’s got some little kids and another dog and they need a dog that’s going to be good with that. OK. So if you guys can fit that demand we will take whatever you got regardless of breed. And so once we stopped caring about breed and we started promoting personalities and good matches are public like our community really followed suit and they started to believe in us and trust in us. And so it was like a like a snowball effect. 


[00:11:26] Once we started doing a really good job with some of them then we were like, “You know what? We got this all day long! Send us all the all the bully breeds. They they just seem to go fast here!” That doesn’t mean send us all your bully breeds guys. It’s a little bit hard. Oh. I think we do really good compared to where we used to be. 


Nikki [00:11:45] Yeah yeah it’s definitely a balance right. So I wouldn’t say it to a shelter or a transport company like “you should be taking all of the the big dogs in a shelter or all of the certain whatever” because you need a variety of dogs in your shelter. We’re certainly not saying that that’s not important. But I think it’s really good to have some sort of balance of your right to take this on fluffy things take some larger dogs. 


Sasha [00:12:15] Yes. Yeah because honestly so when we get it when we get puppies in here it never fails. We always have people who will follow that crowd in feeling bad for the adult dogs. And they’re like “yeah the puppies are cute, but I want something that’s not going to pee on my floor.” So having a balance just really helps promote the dogs that you don’t think are going to get enough attention. Does that make sense? 


[00:12:41] So what we have found that because you know you might get a little old lady who comes in and she needs that little fluffy frou frou dog that’s going to be good in her condo but then you’re also right behind her you’re gonna get the family with three crazy kids that need a big beefy dog to keep up with them. So I feel like as long as you have a balance to keep all of your people happy they’re going to keep coming back because you’re always going to have something in stock that they’re looking for. 


Nikki [00:13:11] And sometimes it’s the other way around. I feel like I have to say that. It is. You. Know sometimes the old lady is the large dog that college is going to be mellow all day and then that family of four needs a small dog that wants to run around in circles and play with the kids all day. So it really depends on the dog. And the person and that’s just so important, too. But it sounds like you guys are doing a really great job making really good matches at your shelter which I think is why all your dogs are going home. 


Sasha [00:13:41] Yes. Yeah. And that’s the main thing I think. And so what we got from from you,from Animal Farm, promote those personalities. learn those personalities send them out on a foster for a weekend… Because people, they think that they want a breed…. They think that they want this black lab that’s going to go swimming with them. But if you hook them up with a dog that matches their lifestyle they’re gonna be so grateful to you because you know what they want more than they do. 


Nikki [00:14:13] And you work with a bunch of different organizations right? So you were telling me earlier that you worked with Dekalb to take a variety of their dogs, but you also have connections in Tennessee where they have a lot more puppies that they need help with you. And of course puppies are helping you out where you are. 


Sasha [00:14:34] Yeah. Yeah. So here in Michigan, we actually don’t have a huge problem with puppies. We almost never see puppies around here which is really good. That must mean that our spay and neuter is going really really well. So yay Michigan. But like rural Tennessee is not like that. I kind of compare it to like our cat problem. So recently we have kittens coming out of our ears all the time. Tennessee is just like that but with puppies and it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. So we do have a transport partner down there and they specialize in puppies because they work with these families whose dogs are just reproducing and so they will help fix the parents if they relinquish the puppies and then the puppies get sent up north to get spayed or neutered and adopt it out. So it’s a win win for everybody. So we actually don’t pull from there as often as you would think because when we pull from places like Dekalb, we can get a nice mix of puppies and adult dogs and it’s so much nicer to have that mix than it is to have maybe 30 puppies at once. And it gets a little crazy when you know you’ve got a whole crowd of people coming in and waiting for puppies. So again that balance not only works for our animals but it really really works for our staff too. 


[00:15:57] So we maybe do a puppy transport, that’s what we call it, “the puppy transport.” We maybe do those maybe two to three times a year. Not super often. 


Nikki [00:16:05] I was expecting it to be a lot more often than that. 


Sasha [00:16:09] Yeah. Just because we we don’t need to. Now granted they do need the help much more often than that, but they do have two other shelters here in Michigan that they’re working with. So they’re shipping puppies to Michigan almost every month. And these are puppies that are all accidents. It’s insane. 


Regina [00:16:27] So along those lines – we did a transport podcast before and one of the biggest things that was revealed in the comments, was that people don’t understand that their experience is not everyone else’s experience and that their community is not the same as every other community. What has transport taught you about the reality of sheltering in other regions?


Sasha [00:16:54] So to be honest I really used to think that we weren’t helping enough animals. You know, we’re a little self-conscious about our size because we’re just this tiny little shelter here in Lenawee County. But, opening up transports and talking to other shelters, not only are we learning that communities are completely different  – like Tennessee that we’re talking about is almost like a Third World country. They don’t have the same kind of resources that we do. So these things that we’re taking for granted – low cost spay and neuter, heartworm treatment even -these things that we’re taking for granted are things other places don’t have. So we have to understand that we all started from somewhere. So the more that we can reach out and help each other and kind of get all on the same page, the more animals we’re all going to help together. And so it doesn’t matter if you’re a big beautiful or shelter you know who knows everything or if you’re this tiny shelter that you think can’t offer anything to the rest of the country. You can. whether it’s one transport a year or even just sharing your knowledge and your policies. We can really really do a lot for each other. And I think I think us helping out with transports has really been a reality check for us. 


Nikki [00:18:16] That’s awesome. I don’t mean to put you on the spot here but I know you said earlier that you had some trouble with your animal control. Have you guys sort of come to a better agreement now?


Sasha [00:18:28] Yes. So we have. So we’re all about transparency and honesty.  And once once they realized that we’re here for the animals, we’re here to help these animals and they deserve any chance that we can give them. Once they figured that out and you know it’s not a political thing and “we don’t want to help you animal control,” it was easier to talk about and to get back on the same page. So and this isn’t like the topic of transports, but what really helped us out… We had a mutual enemy I guess you could say! About a year and a half ago there was a huge puppy mill here in our county and almost 300 animals were pulled from this one location. And so animal control really did have to rely on us a lot and vice versa. So we were forced into this working relationship and it really opened our eyes as to what they deal with. And then you know it opened their eyes as to what we’re doing for all of these animals. So our relationship right now is better than it’s ever been. And we’re still doing transport so it’s great. 


Nikki [00:19:34] I’m sorry that that horrible situation is what brought you guys together. But I actually do think it might be a really great conversation for another podcast. We’ll get back to transports in a second but I do find that and a lot of places I go visit on the local level there’s a lot of problems with the Humane Society things like private shelters not getting along or not working very well with the animal controls that are just down the road. So that’s really interesting to hear. I’d love to talk to you. 


[00:20:08] But getting back to transport I wanted to talk numbers a little bit. I took a look at your Web site and you guys have some numbers on your Web site. I looked at like how many dogs you’ve adopted out and how many came for transport. I was seriously impressed. Tell us about Sort of how the numbers changed once you started taking transport…


Sasha [00:20:35] And again I think it kind of goes back to perception and changing our reputation. So it’s almost like once we started being more open minded and with our adoption process, we started being more open minded with the animals that we’re going to take. And then the animals that we’re going to adopt out. So it’s all kind of flowed to gather. One of the main events that we’ve been doing that our transports are a huge part of, is Bissel’s empty the shelter events and so we started doing these… I want to say we started doing these maybe three years ago. And so we will time our transports, especially from Dekalb because we get a nice variety of dogs from them, but we’ll time our transport to work maybe the week or two weeks before these empty the shelter events happen. So we’re getting a big group of dogs in and they’re staying here maybe a week and then they’re all getting adopted within the first or second week. 


[00:21:45] So not only are we taking it a bunch of dogs and fast tracking them but through these events they’re getting out of our shelter really really fast. I think our numbers really jumped up once we started doing that. So again it’s kind of like supply and demand it really is a business, but we’re in the business of saving lives. And so once we figured that out and that this process does work our numbers grow every year. 


Nikki [00:22:10] Yeah. So it’s not that there wasn’t a lack of adopters. There wasn’t a lack of need for dogs there. 


Sasha [00:22:16] That’s right. That’s right the adopters are here and we actually have… our adoption process is a little bit weird but it actually works out really really well for us. we have people who know exactly what they want. They can check our website. And wait for exactly what they know who they prefer. I mean I like that big beefy family dog or the small fluffy one. So we will let people get pre-approved and that lasts for a year. Then we say you know just keep checking our website and then call us and we’ll help you find a good match. So we almost have more adopters than we have animals at certain points, which is a great problem to have right. 


Nikki [00:22:54] Yeah I think it’s really good for people to hear that, you know there’s there’s still an there’s always going to be a need for someone wanting to either out or whatever it may be. 


Regina [00:23:03] I also think you said we’ve been really good to that because we’ve been hearing a lot of undercurrents about “what do you do when the adoption model doesn’t work?” And you know you just said like, “it’s a business but you’re in the business of saving lives” not so you’re the way you frame it is not “you’re in the business of adopting animals.” “You’re in the business of saving lives.” And so I think if people think about it that way, they may be even more inclined to do transport. 


Sasha [00:23:30] That’s right. That’s right. Because you know you’re not you can’t look at it as “oh I’m just shipping in more problem dog.” No you’ve got a need to fill. and you’re bringing those animals in. So not only are you helping those animals but you’re helping these people who never would have had access to that perfect dog. 


Regina [00:23:48] Let’s talk about the process of transport and what you have to go through to bring the dogs up. How does transport work? Because a lot of people don’t know and a lot of people are afraid of transport. So walk us through the process. 


Sasha [00:24:04] So the transport process is literally our favorite. It is so much fun. So anybody out there who’s scared of it you guys you’re missing out. 


[00:24:13] So like think of like going online and shopping and you can literally have whatever you want. So for example, DeKalb our process with Dekalb, our contact used to be Katie (who is no longer there and we’re really sad about it) but so she would create a Facebook group. And so Katie and then our transport team would be in this group and then she would just throw a bunch of pictures and videos of dogs that are eligible candidates to be transported out of the shelter. 


[00:24:46] So she would throw those in there and then we would browse through and we would say “oh my gosh like there’s a good fit for this one we’ve got…. so-and-so who might be a really good adapter for this one.” So we’re browsing these and again, it’s like supply and demand. We know that we have these families that would be really good matches for these dogs. And we’re learning about these personalities through these videos. So it’s like browsing through those really cute cat videos on Facebook and then being like “Oh but I can actually have that cat” so that we select all of the dogs and cats. Actually we do not transporting cats, but we can get to that. 


[00:25:18] So we would select all of the dogs that we think would be a good fit. We usually have a set number. So with Dekalb, it’s usually around 20-25 animals. So we know that as soon as we fill up to that 20 or twenty five. We’re done. Those are the dogs coming and then we know next time you know if there’s anybody that really stuck out we would put them on the list for next time. 


[00:25:40] So it’s almost like there’s more animals that we would want to bring in than we have room for. But it’s super fun to be able to meet these dogs through pictures and videos. And then when they’re here walking off the truck, we already feel like we know these dogs because we’ve been talking about them so much. 


[00:25:57] And of course your transport partners… You’re going to want to make sure that you hook up with somebody who’s completely transparent right. So we ask questions. How does this dog do with other dogs outside of the kennel? What happens when a dog walks by the kennel? What happens if a stranger is standing in front of the kennel? Because we know that kennel stress is a really big issue here, so that’s something that we try to avoid. Whereas dogs who maybe don’t like other dogs that’s fine. That’s not an issue that we have a lot. 


[00:26:27] So again you’ll you’ll want to know what your issues are in your shelter, what you can work with and what you can’t. And then just be open and honest with that. And as long as your transport partners are open and honest with you too, you’re going to have a great relationship. 


Nikki [00:26:41] Now one of the things that I’ve heard from some of the other organization that probably could benefit from getting into the transport game, is they’re worried partially about the transparency, but also you know sometimes even when we go down and personally meet dogs once they get to the shelter they have a different personality than when we saw them in Dekalb or wherever it may be. So tell us about what your fears were going into it. If you’ve seen this problem. If it’s a huge problem or if it’s a baby problem. 


Sasha [00:27:20] So actually it hasn’t been perfect, that’s for sure. But one of the reasons why we absolutely love DeKalb is because we have that honesty and transparency with them. And so we let them know, we can’t do barrier aggression. So if an animal is showing that, please make sure to let us know. And so we might have a dog picked out that’s all set to come and the day before they might be like “hey this dog had an issue yesterday. So we’re going to pull him off of the transport. But this guy, we think it’s gonna be a really good fit for you guys.” So we know that we can trust them we know that they have our back. 


[00:27:57] And then, of course, we’ve had issues and not many but we’ve had a dog or two in the past who has gotten all the way to our shelter and has been great. And then you know maybe it didn’t get adopted within the first week or two like we were hoping. So after a month, that kennel stress is really setting in. And then that dog becomes reactive in a kennel. So Dekalb is amazing and they have an agreement with us, If a dog absolutely is not working out here and we can’t rehome, then they will take that dog back. We have had one dog in the past that we did send back but other than that I mean, we make it work. And so I think that was our big issue so as long as you have an agreement that says hey but what if we can’t adopt this dog out? You know is there some kind of safety net for that. And so as long as you’ve got a partner who’s willing to work with you and who understands that, you’re not going to have any issues. 


[00:28:53] And so we’re… I really like to talk us up because our euthanasia rate is so low. As of last year, our save rate was ninety-nine percent, which is the highest it’s ever been. It’s not because we’re getting perfect dogs. And it’s not because we’re transporting perfect dogs in. it’s because we are getting full disclosure from our partners and then really working with any issues that might be. 


Nikki [00:29:26] You guys are really good at making sure that you have full disclosure to your adopters about everything you know about the dog but also about marketing your dogs. 


Sasha [00:29:34] Oh yeah yeah. We learned from Dekalb to be honest. 


Nikki [00:29:39] I know I follow them And I just try to steal all of their ideas. 


Sasha [00:29:44] Honestly they’re marketing geniuses and I love them so much. 


Regina [00:29:49] Oh sometimes…  I’m going to confess this on record and knowing that my boss is gonna listen to this. Sometimes when I’m like “I don’t know what to post on Facebook,” I just go and steal one of their videos and share it. 


Sasha [00:30:04] That’s genius! I’m gonna do that too. Thank you. 


Regina [00:30:06] I’m just like, “you need a cute dog today!” Or like you know, “it’s Wednesday! You made it to the middle of the week, here’s your reward!” You know, I throw up a cute caption like that up there.


Sasha [00:30:15] Yes because they’re so good at it. And again they’re still upbeat and positive. Right. Like they’re not like oh look at this poor dog. He’s so naughty feel so bad for him. They’re shedding a positive light even if a dog is not to make a joke out of it because you’re going to have somebody with a ridiculous sense of humor that’s going to want a ridiculous dog. They’re out there. 


Regina [00:30:40] and they do what you know you talked about earlier. they always show these dogs with people. The dogs are all wiggly and in somebody’s lap or sometimes they’re just laying in somebody’s lap. So maybe you don’t want to get that dog…like I wouldn’t want a wiggly dog. But they but they showcase the dog’s personality in the video and that’s that’s what I love seeing. And that’s what I think a lot of other people in sheltering need to see. They need to see that that’s really how you market dogs. And people will fall in love with who they are. 


Sasha [00:31:10] Right because when a dog is being all super cute and floppy in somebody’s lap you’re not even considering what breed that is. You just know that’s a cute dog and you need that to be your lap. Yes. So true. 


Nikki [00:31:26] All right. What did we miss here. Oh. So why don’t you guys transport cats?


Sasha [00:31:35] So we could. We would… Our community would probably kill us if we tried to transporting cats. We’re doing a really really good with dogs here. Like I said spay and neuter, I think has been taking off huge here. 


[00:31:52] Cats, we’re like Tennessee but with cats. So we can’t get a handle on them we do have a low-cost spay/neuter clinic here and we have a TNR program. So we have definitely brought down the number of cats in our community, but nowhere near where we would be comfortable enough in transporting cats in from other counties. And so I think that’s the way that we can… I know this maybe sounds bad but that’s kind of like our compromise with our county. We’re like listen you guys gotta trust us. We got the dog thing down. Let us bring them in from other counties. And we promise that we’re going to get a handle on the cats before we even consider that. 


[00:32:33] And so again I think that’s a trust thing with our county. They’re like OK you guys know what you’re doing. You know like we’ll let you do it but if we try to if we tried to transporting cats. We might lose all of their support. I don’t know. So that’s a little touchy and I don’t know if any other shelters are in our same boat because I’m sure there’s shelters out there who are struggling with both dogs and cats. Yeah. So again just be open and honest with your community. 


Nikki [00:32:59] Yeah we visited another shelter in Augusta that… they have a handful with their cats. They have leash laws for their cats. So, any cats that come in that are only like any cats that people find that aren’t on leash go to their shelter. And they are so they’re sort of in this really tough situation where they’re not sure what to do and they have tons of cats. So they’re in your boat. 


Sasha [00:33:30] Yeah. That’s crazy.  We’re almost the opposite of that. So we have absolutely no cat ordinance in our county so our animal control doesn’t do anything with cats. We’re literally the only resource for them. And as a non-profit you know as a no-kill shelter, we can’t just keep taking these cats in you know because we run out of space. So that gets a little bit tricky. So until we can figure out some more resources and some more safety nets for the cats in our own community we wouldn’t even dream of pulling them in from any other place to make sense. 


Regina [00:34:06] One more thing that I want to make sure we cover is that one of the anti-transport comments that we hear a lot is that when you transport these dogs you’re bringing disease. So can you talk about how that’s not the case and all of the safety nets that are in place to make sure that that’s not the case. 


Sasha [00:34:27] Yeah. So transports are actually pretty regulated. I don’t know if most people know that. But dogs can’t cross state lines without a health certificate. So any dogs that we are pulling in, have been vet checked and they come with the health certificate. And so we do kind of have a funny story from one of our very first transports. It was actually the Tennessee transport. So we were getting in a bunch of puppies and whereas most people would be really excited about that. We did have some people in the community who are not happy with us for doing that. And so our shelter here in Michigan is regulated by the Department of Agriculture and we call them the Department of Ag, but they come in and they do our yearly shelter evaluations. And so we have to report to them and we report all of our numbers to them.So anyways as soon as we got our very first puppy transport… We didn’t even have all the puppies in the door yet, and Department of Ag was knocking on our door. and they’re like “Oh I hear you guys got all these puppies from out of state. Can you show me your health certificates?” And we were on top of everything because there’s regulations. And so you know we gave them all of our paperwork and we’re like hey take that. So I’m not I don’t know who reported us but somebody was not happy but because we had everything you know already taken care of that wasn’t even an issue. 


[00:35:54] So we’ve been doing multiple transports since then and there’s been no issue. Department of Ag trusts us now. They know that we have our stuff together. So anybody who’s scared about diseases coming in from other states and counties, I promise they can’t just throw your animals onto a truck and send them to you. Dekalb is really awesome in that way because they’ll actually quarantine their animals for at least two weeks before sending them north to make sure there’s no issues going on. So it’s actually a really safe way to transport animals. So I highly recommend it, people. 


Regina [00:36:31] Is there anything that we missed or anything that you want to talk about. 


Sasha [00:36:37] You know what, we have got two special needs animals in from Dekalb. Can I spotlight a little bit? Just in case people freak out about like “hey you’re only taking the perfect animals.” 


[00:36:50] So last year, me and our executive director, we went to the Best Friends Animal conference in L.A. We met up with Katie there and Andy also who used to work at Dekalb. So we were all hanging out. It was our first night there in the hotel lobby having drinks – a lot of them – and so we started talking about this and, luckily our director, she kind of lets me get away with anything. Thank God! So, we start talking about this dog Mias, and he was a special needs dog who had had a five thousand dollar surgery on his legs to help him walk again. When they first met this dog, he was dragging his back and he couldn’t feel anything. So he went through a ton of work. They had a volunteer who paid for his surgeries and this volunteer was fostering him. 


[00:37:49] But you know it wasn’t like it wasn’t a long term solution for this dog. They get a ton of dogs in all the time, so they were really worried about Mias kind of getting swept under the rug and not having a good outcome after all of this work that had gone into him. And I looked over at our director and I said I’m pretty sure we can help this crippled dog. Can we send him to Michigan? And she’s like “Are you serious?


[00:38:15] I mean he’s like this black mixed breed dog… who looks at those? And so she agreed. And there in L.A., across the country, we set up this transport with Mias and we let him bring up quite a few other friends, because you know you can’t do a transport from Georgia with just one guy. So we get MIas and all of his friends… And you guys, this dog! He got adopted within just a couple of weeks and he’s living the best life! He’s walking great. He loves to swim. So this dog that might not have had a great chance in Georgia is living the best life ever in Michigan. And he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. 


[00:38:56] And so on that note we actually, last week, we had another type of situation.  I want to say it was around the same time we got Mias… There’s another little crippled dog there in Georgia and her name is Sprinkle. 


Nikki [00:39:13] Awww… 


Sasha [00:39:13] I know! Isn’t that cute! And she’s like this huge blocky headed puppy, but she had an issue like a bone-eating bacteria from an old injury that had messed up her leg. So again she couldn’t walk either. And we actually struggled pretty hard to place this dog because she’s a puppy and she can’t walk. She can’t be house trained. You know all of these things that you want to do with the puppy you couldn’t do with her. So we were kind of missing the market for her. We had a really great foster who fostered her for a year. And as of last week, she finally got adopted. 


[00:39:48] So, as much as we want to be scared that we might get stuck with these dogs… we might. But there really is a good outcome for everybody as well. Again as long as we believe in them, the public will too. And it just it’s a beautiful thing. Yeah. So don’t just take the perfect one. 


Regina [00:40:07] I really love that message, too because I think people are afraid to do that to take dogs that are special needs because they think the public doesn’t want them. But then it’s that same self-fulfilling prophecy with taking quote unquote pit bull dogs right? You are the one who actually doesn’t want them. You don’t want to take them to your shelter and if you do but if you market the good things about them if you market their personality. There’s a home for them. 


[00:40:35] That’s right. That’s right. And so it’s up to us to promote them the way that people are going to want to live with them. So like we talked about Dekalb and snuggling with them on their laps. Well we’ll take our cue a little you know, “pittie” looking dogs over to Starbucks and get them a little puppiccino and so you know which girl doesn’t want to go get their nails done and go have a puppicciono with their dog?


[00:41:03] So as long as they can envision these dogs doing what they want to do with their own life you’re going to have an adopterfor them. You just have to make that happen. 


Nikki [00:41:10] Well I hope that if you are listening right now and you are looking at a bunch of empty kennels in your shelter – I’m looking at you New England and New York – reach out to Animal Farm. We can certainly tell you about the shelters that we work with that are great and have been super transparent with us. I’m sure if you have any questions that we didn’t answer Sasha would be happy to answer them for you. 


Sasha [00:41:44] Absolutely. Yeah. Now we love to share our knowledge because again that’s how we got to where we are. People believe in us and helped us get to this level so we will share the love and help more dogs. So right. That’s who we’re here for. 


Nikki [00:41:59] OK. Well I think we’ve covered everything we wanted to cover for today but Sasha I had a really great time talking to and I hope that you will come back and chat some more with us in the future about the other stuff that you’ve got going on. Thank you so much for joining us. 


Sasha [00:42:18] Thanks for having me. It’s been great. 

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