SALEM — Just when snowbirds are packing up and heading south, some Florida residents moved north yesterday.
Clementine, Linda, Lance and 12 other dogs arrived at Salem Animal Rescue League yesterday afternoon, tired from a long ride from Miami-Dade County, but eager to start new lives.
The 15 dogs were part of Miami-Dade Animal Services Dogs on the Move program, marking its two-year anniversary with the largest single-day transport in its history with 215 dogs. It also was the program’s 100th transport.
SARL has partnered with Miami-Dade since December 2012, regularly, accepting transports of dogs that likely would otherwise have been euthanized.
Count Kiko among those whose futures were being counted in hours until SARL agreed to accept them for adoption in New Hampshire. The 3-year-old basset hound mix settled in quickly yesterday. He wouldn’t have lasted another day in Florida.
The Miami-Dade shelter takes in 27,000 dogs and cats a year, averaging 300 to 400 dogs a week, according to Melissa Sorokin of Dogs on the Move.
The euthanization rate at the Florida county’s sole shelter is high — 30 percent, she said. But that’s nothing compared to the 64 percent it was before the program started two years ago.
“It’s still heartbreaking every single day,” Sorokin said. “Of that percentage euthanized, most are friendly, adoptable dogs.
But the volume of animals brought to the shelter and limited space combine to make euthanization a reality.
She and her partner saw a need for a transport program, and the county shelter agreed. It’s a private-public partnership that takes dogs off death row in Florida and brings them to partner shelters in the Northeast, where spay/neuter rates are much higher and there are many more chances these animals will be adopted.
Fifteen dogs is a lot for SARL to receive at one time, although not the largest transport ever. But 18 adoptions over the past two weeks left the shelter with room to accept the Southern canines, according to D.J. Bettencourt, Director of Development and Community Relations.
The shelter has room for 35 dogs at any given time, he said, with an average canine population between 20 and 25.
Most of the cats and dogs that find their way to SARL are from Rockingham County, the Merrimack Valley or the North Shore. That’s the rescue league’s priority.
“Our number one priority is always to service our region,” Bettencourt said. “We only accept transports based on the room we have after servicing our area.”
But SARL also partners with humane societies or other rescue groups in Florida, West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Alabama.
“Most of these out-of-state dogs are taken from high-kill shelters,” Bettencourt said. “Many times the dogs we accept are hours away from being euthanized. We really are in the business of saving lives with these transports.”
Today, that means Blacki, a 3-year-old, black-and-white female Labrador mix, will soon for her forever home. So, too, will Big Guy, Scarlet, Terry and Delilah.
First, all the dogs that arrived yesterday will be given thorough medical exams and treatment for worms, ticks and fleas at SARL. Until they are ready to be put up for adoption, the dogs are separated from the other residents. All dogs ready for new homes should be available Thursday. Visit sarlnh.org for updates.
The dogs were eager to get out on their kennels in the white Ford van they had been riding in since 11 a.m. Wednesday, with regular stops for food and walks.
Volunteers lined up with leashes to meet the new arrivals, most eager to relieve themselves and stretch their legs.
All appeared happy to find themselves in Salem.
“They know they’re in the right place,” Sorokin said.
Elisabeth Shuter, SARL’s transport coordinator, knew they were, too.
She held Linda, the first dog out of the van. It is Shuter who regularly chooses dogs from a sending shelter’s list of animals they are trying to place. In this case, she said, she chose 15 dogs from a list of 30. The choices can be tough.
Shuter chose White Boy, now named Lucky Boy, a couple of months ago. But then the 6-year-old terrier mix tested positive for heartworm. New Hampshire law prohibits the transport into the state of any animal that has a positive heartworm test. True to his new name, Lucky Boy went into foster care in Florida until he was cured. He arrived yesterday.
“Once I put a hold on a dog, he’s mine,” Shuter said.
And when any dog has a hold put on it, there is no more risk of it being euthanized in Florida, Sorokin said.
In July, SARL took 10 dogs from the Florida shelter, seven of them pulled from the euthanasia list, Shuter said.
“I know of one shelter in the South where dogs only get three days (before they are euthanized,)” she said. “We’ve taken dogs that are on their last 24 hours.”
SARL accepts transports about once a month and has two scheduled next month.
The transport dogs are generally healthy, although they may have fleas or kennel cough. SARL isn’t equipped to take out-of-state dogs with serious medical issues.
“We do take in local dogs with issues,” Shuter said, “but we can’t do that with transports.”
The dogs have all been spayed or neutered, given medical checkups, vaccinations and microchips, Sorokin said.
Once the dogs were settled and paperwork exchanged yesterday, Sorokin and the driver hit the road again, heading to new partner Humane Society of Greater Nashua with four dogs from death row and then to Rochester, N.Y., with two German shepherds.
They usually send four or five vans a month north, Sorokin said, at a cost of $2,500 to $3,000 per van. The money for the transports comes from both the Florida group and their partner shelters in the Northeast.
Bettencourt said he expects all the Florida dogs will soon be adopted.
“Out of the 215 (transports), they got the best 15,” she joked.