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In Wills Point, Texas, Jeanette and George Pierce Jr.—who share their home with “four of the spoiled-rottenest dogs you ever seen,” Jeanette says—already have a pretty full house. But they still find space for some furry travelers who are on the road to new homes, courtesy of regional and long-distance truck drivers.
Jeanette and her husband are layover volunteers for the nonprofit Operation Roger, a network of volunteer truckers who haul pets from rescues and shelters to new homes around the country. The group, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in September, has completed about 900 transports.
Sue Wiese, now a retired trucker from Joshua, Texas, founded the group—formally known as Operation Roger Truckers Pet Transport—in 2005. Saddened by the pets left stranded after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast, the lifelong animal lover was driving and praying. She wondered what she could do to help pets and their families. In her head, she heard the word “transport.”
“I said, ‘Huh? What are you talking about? How can I make any difference?’” recalls Wiese. She later learned that many animals had homes to go to, but no way to get there. Her daughters and a fellow truck driver convinced her to call Bill Mack’s XM Satellite Radio trucking show to see if truckers would be interested in transporting pets. They were. “And that was the start of it … drivers wanting to help. So I consider this God’s ministry to his four-legged critters.”
But with such a ministry come challenges. The nonprofit constantly wrangles with logistical problems. Because freight routes generally run from east to west or north to south, Wiese says, getting pets to and from certain parts of the United States is difficult. Sometimes it takes three truckers, some shuttle drivers and a couple of layover homes to get a pet across the country. Along with fundraising challenges, another major obstacle has been recruiting volunteer drivers. While Operation Roger has between 20 and 25 truck drivers, Wiese hopes to double that number.
Thankfully, the truckloads of joy have made the last 10 years worthwhile. Shelters, rescues and individuals with pets in need of nonemergency transport contact Operation Roger and pay a small donation to offset administrative expenses. The group arranges rides with tractor-trailer owner-operators who are heading the pets’ way. The pets, who ride in the truck cabs, must be friendly, healthy (with up-to-date vaccinations) and, for adult dogs, at least partially housetrained. Operation Roger’s efforts are aided by layover homes like the Pierces’ as well as shuttle drivers.
In addition to transporting, the drivers care for the critters riding beside them, sometimes helping to restore the animals’ trust. Dogs who have been mistreated often “don’t know what it is to be a dog,” Wiese says, but they can start to be transformed by a driver’s kindness, love and acceptance. “They can completely turn around by the time they get to where they’re going.”
They can also have a lot of fun along the way. For a former racing greyhound named Pandora, one trucker—with her personal dogs also on board—had a particularly long trip. During that tour, the dog saw snow for the first time. “The funny part was her dogs would go out—smelling around and doing their business—and it was like this dog said, ‘Oh. What are you doing? Oh, is that what you’re doing? OK. I’ll try that too,” says Wiese with a chuckle.
In June 2014, Paws for Hope and Faith—a nonprofit that organizes weeklong shelter adoption events—hosted an adoption week at the Gurdon Animal Shelter in Arkansas. When a puppy named Pauline was adopted and scheduled for transport to the Pacific Northwest, Ty Oppelt, the shelter manager, knew whom to call. He and the adopter contacted Wiese. Only a week or two later, he drove the puppy to the Pierce layover home in Texas, where she was picked up by a trucker after a few days. She was driven to another layover home in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spent the night before being picked up by a second trucker and driven to Seattle.
The pet parents who receive the deliveries are often overjoyed. Don Smith of North Hills, Calif., says he’s “eternally grateful” to Wiese and the drivers for bringing him Sassy, a pit bull terrier who has kept him going through the loss of his beloved dog Dice. “That is dedication. That is compassion,” he says. “That’s living proof that any one of us—if we’re dedicated to it—can help other creatures.”
Wiese wants to bring that dedication to more animals. She will be attending the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., in March, hoping to recruit more drivers. She’s also hoping to convince rescues and shelters in that area to bring their animals to the show, so drivers can adopt them. In the future, she wants to visit more rescues and find a volunteer liaison to coordinate trips with other pet transport organizations.
Despite the boundless compassion of Wiese and her volunteers, the spunky Operation Roger president says, “We had no idea what it was going to grow into.”