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Homeward Bound works with MSU to save animals’ lives

January 13, 2013

Most of the animals in Mississippi animal shelters never find a home.
Terri Snead, a veterinary technician at Mississippi State University, said most Mississippi animal shelters are overcrowded, and it is not unusual for a Mississippi shelter to euthanize as much as 70-75 percent of the animals it admits. Animal shelters in the Northeast, she said, tend to be less crowded, and in 2007, this difference gave three MSU students from New York and New Hampshire an idea.

“They started networking with shelters in their hometowns, and at their first Christmas break, they loaded their SUVs down with shelter puppies,” Snead said. “At the end of that long and smelly trip, all of the dogs were spoken for. They worked to refine the process and hand it down to the next class when they graduated.”

That Christmas marked the beginning of Homeward Bound, a program that brings dogs from Mississippi shelters to shelters in the Northeast, where their chances to be adopted are higher.

Snead, director of operations for Homeward Bound, said the organization has an estimated 50 volunteers, including veterinary students, faculty, staff and community members, and since 2007, it has saved 3,010 animals. She said 30 puppies and dogs traveled north on Homeward Bound’s December transport, and 29 of them were adopted in a 3-hour time span by pre-approved adopters.

“The shelter decided one dog needed a bit more time in foster care, and she should be adopted this month,” Snead said. “We gave our volunteers a well-deserved break after the December transport. (The) next transport is planned for (the) first weekend in March. We transport, on average, every 6 weeks.”

Phil Bushby, faculty advisor for Homeward Bound and endowed professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, said several factors contribute to the reduced pet population in northeastern animal shelters. He said these factors include public awareness of the importance of spaying or neutering pets and more prevalent leash laws.

“While Mississippi shelters are overcrowded, especially with young puppies, frequently shelters in the Northeast have waiting lists of people hoping to adopt a puppy,” Bushby said. “Transport simply saves lives. It takes pets that would most likely be euthanized in our shelters and puts them into shelters where the chances of adoption are significantly greater.”

Homeward Bound currently deals exclusively in healthy dogs, mostly puppies, Snead said, and every dog is spayed or neutered, vaccinated and given any needed treatment for internal and external parasites before transport. Each dog is also placed in a foster home for observation and socialization before the trip, she said, and participating shelters in New York, New Hampshire and Connecticut select which pets they wish to receive based on information from Homeward Bound.

“On the day of transport, all the pets are brought to the vet school (and given) a final examination. Appropriate records and transportation forms are completed, and the animals (are) placed in individual transport cages in the transport trailer,” Snead said. “Drivers from Mississippi transport the animals to a location in Virginia, where they are met by drivers from New Hampshire. The animals are transferred to the vans used by the New Hampshire drivers and delivered to the receiving shelters. All of our northern shelters keep transport dogs in quarantine in the shelter or in a foster home for 5-7 days before adoption.”

Sometimes, these dogs have homes waiting for them before they even leave Mississippi, Snead said, and sometimes, the Mississippi puppies inadvertently help the northeastern dogs find homes.

“The draw that the transport puppies provide attracts potential adopters for the shelters’ current residents, usually older dogs,” Snead said. “Often, (the Mississippi) pets are already pre-adopted.  It is not unusual for a pet to leave Mississippi on a Homeward Bound transport on a Saturday morning and already be in a loving home two days later, Monday.”

In a November press release, Snead said Homeward Bound uses a departmental trailer on loan from CVM to transport the animals, but this vehicle faces limitations during the summer.

“The trailer’s air conditioner and generator just don’t have the capacity to cool 40 or 50 dogs in the summer months,” Snead said in the release, “and we have tried every conceivable configuration of additional, rented generators and a stand-alone air-conditioning unit.”

The limitations of this vehicle have led the CVM’s Class of 2016 to raise funds for a fully air-conditioned vehicle of Homeward Bound’s own. The students’ fundraising goal is $60,000, and Snead said they are well on their way.

“We have received generous donations for our transport vehicle and are getting closer to our goal,” Snead said. “Fundraising is a year-round activity for us, because we rely on grants and donations to keep our program going. We are working with our office of development on fundraising for our specific needs.”

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