She drives by night, taking her living cargo to new homes up north. It's like the Underground Railroad for dogs, and on it Margaret Marsh has transported five vanloads of dogs that might otherwise face euthanasia.
Beauregard was one. Last month, Marsh drove the treeing Walker hound and five other dogs from the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, Maine. And she plans to do so on a regular basis.
So why are the Charlottesville SPCA– and other Southern shelters– shipping dogs up north?
"Hunting states like Maine– they want hound dogs," says SPCA president Jenny Mead. "Maine doesn't have the overpopulation problem we do."
The Humane Society of America estimates that about half of the six to eight million dogs and cats placed in shelters each year are put down– and many others are abandoned or killed before they ever get to a shelter, according to the Associated Press, which broke the story in March.
Is it true that folks in the rural South are less likely than other citizens to spay or neuter their pets?
"Northern states have more aggressive campaigns for spaying," says Charlottesville SPCA executive director Susanne Kogut. "New Hampshire has the lowest euthanasia rate in the country."
That means a shortage of adoptable dogs in the North and a fundamental change in how overpopulated shelters find homes for their unwanted canines– including the strategy of hauling them hundreds of miles away.
"We're expanding all of our programs to get them adopted," says Kogut. "We're lucky enough to have a van and volunteers to do that."
Kogut went on a dog delivery to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "There was absolutely no variety," she says. "They have way too many pit bulls and larger dogs. They'll take all the smaller dogs and puppies they can get. Not everyone is going to be a Rottweiler or pit bull owner."
On Marsh's last transport on April 9 to the Lollypop Farm in Rochester, New York, all six dogs she delivered were adopted within 48 hours. Since January, she's taken 29 dogs to new homes, and ironically, only Beauregard, the hound whose story was all over the AP wires, hasn't yet been adopted.
Marsh is looking for other volunteers to help make the 750-mile drives like the one to southern Maine. She figures the more drivers, the more dogs that can be adopted.
The drives are usually made at night. "You try to arrive when the shelter is open," says Marsh. And en route, each dog gets walked separately at least once.
"The hardest part is trying to stay awake," she says.
As promising as the dog transport program looks for finding homes for adoptable pooches, the same doesn't hold true for cats. "Almost every state has cat overpopulation," says Kogut. "Even ones that take dogs won't take cats."
Margaret Marsh drives hundreds of miles to find a home for hounds.
PHOTO BY LAUREN BROOKS
<BR></B>CARTOON BY DON BERARD