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Moving animals—in the right direction

From Animal Sheltering magazine January/February 2016

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily

The long-distance transport of rescued animals—from state to state and even from far-away countries—has long given animals in trouble a second chance. The gale-force winds of Hurricane Katrina and the massive rescue work it inspired produced a nationwide diaspora of Gulf Coast animals. The shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi were either submerged or full, and long-distance transport was the only way to save lives.

The entire nation rallied to help the animals and the people of the Gulf Coast during this crisis, and we learned about the “new math” associated with these sorts of transfers. Moving animals from one state to the next didn’t necessarily add burdens to crammed shelters. The excitement generated by a newsworthy rescue and transfer gave the receiving organization a higher purpose and profile that spurred interest not only in adoption of the new arrivals, but in animals already housed there. When we took rescued dogs from a puppy mill in one Southern state and sent them to the Atlanta Humane Society, the interest in those animals nearly cleaned out the entire shelter, with a line of prospective adopters circling the building. When a local shelter takes 40 animals, sometimes 80 will get adopted. That’s the new math of high-profile transfers.

Because The HSUS conducts so many rescues, we’ve developed an Emergency Placement Partners program, a network of organizations ready to accept animals from our rescue operations—whether a natural disaster, a puppy mill or an animal fighting or hoarding case. That network now exceeds 200 organizations, enabling us and our partners to do lifesaving work just about anywhere in the country. In the process, we are able to spotlight major problems for animals (for which we are seeking lasting policy solutions and changes in public attitudes) and bring attention to the vital work of local organizations.

The world has changed in other ways in recent years. In some parts of the country where messaging about spay/neuter and adoption has been widely embraced, demand for dogs now outstrips the supply of shelter animals. While there are still animal welfare issues that need addressing in these communities—especially in the underserved neighborhoods our Pets for Life program aims to help—bringing in dogs who might otherwise face euthanasia just makes good sense. Such programs are most effective when they combine transport with increased access to veterinary care and spay/neuter in the community of origin—so that the problem is not just being moved, but solved.

It is true that translocation has raised concerns within the veterinary community, which has rightly pointed to the importance of veterinary health protocols, vaccination, treatment for parasites or infectious conditions, isolation, quarantine and temperament testing. (Not surprisingly, the puppy mill industry has also sought to halt the flow of desirable animals to our nation’s shelters, and used transports to argue that the United States no longer has an animal overpopulation problem and justify its production of more mass-bred puppies.)

Proper veterinary protocols minimize any associated risks with translocation, and The HSUS is committed to best practices on this front. We want to ensure the full support and confidence of veterinarians on this issue, and we want to ensure the health and safety of animal populations that come into contact with newly transported animals. 

The bottom line on translocation is that it’s been a win-win—good for the shelters and rescue groups at either end of the transaction, and dramatically changing the fortunes of the animals involved, while helping to raise greater public awareness of the problems facing companion animals worldwide. The problems that animals face are of national and global dimensions, and our response must be similarly far-reaching and creative. The world doesn’t stay the same, and neither should our cause or our approach.

Subscribe to Wayne Pacelle’s daily updates on the animal welfare world and the work of The HSUS at blog@humanesociety.org.

About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.