Halfway to a new home: Lawrence Humane Society is a crucial stop for hundreds of pets on their journey from Texas to Minnesota |  News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Ruth Anne Decker has volunteered with Best Friends, an animal welfare nonprofit, for nearly two years, specifically as part of a program that sees pets travel from Texas to Minnesota, stopping to pass overnight at Lawrence Humane Society on the way.

After a long drive from Texas, a van with nearly 30 dogs arrived in Lawrence late Friday, but none of them had plans to stay long.

They stopped at the Lawrence Humane Society, essentially for the night in a hotel. In the early hours of Saturday, the group reloaded and set out for Minnesota, where their new owners were waiting. The two-day cross-country hike is held once a month as part of the transportation program of Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit animal welfare organization that moves pets from one shelter to another where they they are more likely to be adopted.

Lawrence was a vital stop along the way for just over 300 transports last year, Lawrence Humane Society executive director Shannon Wells told the Journal-World, making it the busiest stop in the country. Temporary tenants not only sleep in the shelter, they are also fed, hiked and enjoy some much-needed socialization with the volunteers who stop by to help.

Photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Volunteers pet a Great Dane, one of the passengers aboard a van bound for Minnesota this weekend, Friday, May 5, 2023.

“Our philosophy here at the Lawrence Humane Society has always been to maximize the resources that we have,” Wells said. “We have this beautiful building, and if we can save more lives, that’s what we want to do.”

Lawrence Humane Society is an affiliate of Best Friends, and it’s also the middle ground as Best Friends Houston volunteers take dogs from shelters in Houston to Ruff Start Rescue in Minnesota once a month, a nearly 1,200-mile journey. Volunteers have stopped in Lawrence for about two years, Wells said. The previous overnight stop for the area was the Kansas City Pet Project.

For animals, Wells said the long journey is “short-term stress for long-term gain.” That’s because Texas is currently a very dangerous state for homeless pets.

Photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

A volunteer works to unload a van full of dogs on Friday, May 5, 2023. Once a month, about 30 dogs make the journey through Lawrence on their way to permanent homes with new owners in Minnesota.

“I just know from years of being in shelters that there are some states that have a high degree of euthanasia in their shelters, and in the meantime, there are other communities that are almost a desert for animals,” Wells said. “They can’t meet the demand in the community.”

In this case, Wells said Texas has one of the highest euthanasia rates in the country and as a result has been a focus area for Best Friends for the past five years. According to the statistics on best friends website, more than 61,000 dogs and cats were killed in animal shelters across Texas in 2021, and only 150 of the 368 shelters in the state are no-kill shelters. The organization is working to achieve statewide “no kill” status by 2025.

Meanwhile, there’s actually a shortage of adoptable pets up north. Ruth Anne Decker, a regular volunteer who helps with Lawrence’s monthly shuttle stops, said she often talks about the dogs making the trip, without seeing them, even before they’ve arrived in Minnesota.

Decker lives in Overland Park and travels to Lawrence and back to help with transportation every month. He even makes the round trip twice: once on Friday nights when the van arrives in town, and early the next morning before he leaves for the second leg of his trip. In particular, Decker’s job is to take the lead in the “pup ward”, handling young dogs classified as “no paws on the ground”.

Wells said it’s a bit of a misconception that puppies are no longer susceptible to disease once they get their first vaccinations. They also get part of their immunity from their mothers, which helps protect them during their first few weeks. But once the immunity wears off, Wells said it varies from animal to animal how much they can be exposed to the bacteria before getting sick. Animals designated as “no legs on the ground” are treated with special care to ensure they are exposed to the least possible risk.

“All of these pups will come with some degree of vaccination history; the question is, ‘Is it enough?’” Wells said. “And then when you think about having animals in places where there are a lot of other animals, there is a higher level of exposure. Dog parks, pet stores, and animal shelters are generally places where we would like to minimize risk as much as possible.”

That leaves Decker to roll out the red carpet for the pups staying at the SPCA. On Friday, he sets up a playpen with many layers of towels and training pads covering the floor. Then, one crate at a time, place a hand towel to close the gap between the doors of each crate and the playpen to keep paws off the floor, and also clean the area between groups of dogs. She repeats the same process the next morning.

Photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Volunteer Ruth Anne Decker releases a group of puppies into a small area covered with towels and surrounded by a playpen on Friday, May 5, 2023. With Decker’s help, puppies passing through Lawrence on their way north avoid get diseases too. lots of contact with bare floors.

“They relieve themselves and I feed them, and then I take off a cape and do the next group,” Decker said. “It’s a lot of bending over and cleaning a lot of cages; (it’s) messy and a lot of work and I’m exhausted by Sunday, but I feel like I helped a lot of creatures, so I feel really good about it.”

This weekend, Decker handled nine pups alone, a third of the group in this transport, but the ages and types of dogs always vary from month to month. In any case, she said it’s pretty typical to expect to care for around 30 total dogs in each group.

That means Decker, who has been a transportation volunteer with Best Friends for the past year and a half, has contributed to helping hundreds of dogs travel to safety.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of, and it’s great to give them the few minutes of attention you can,” Decker said. “Some of them, there’s been a couple that I’ve been with that just want you to cuddle them all the time, so I’m going to take them out and keep them for a while. But most of the time, they’re happy to be fed and everyone’s excited about what’s going on.”

Photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Volunteer Ruth Anne Decker pauses to pet some of the pups she is helping during her visit to Lawrence on Friday, May 5, 2023.

The Lawrence Humane Society is always looking for more volunteers, Wells said, especially for the monthly shuttles. The transports are facilitated almost entirely by volunteers, so every sleight of hand has an impact. Wells said all you need to do to become a volunteer is complete an orientation, and people who are concerned with the details will receive on-the-job training from more experienced volunteers.

Those who are interested in volunteering or learning more can contact Ashley Rice-Keen, Lawrence Humane Society volunteer and community engagement coordinator, at 785-371-0527 or [email protected].

“Really, we just take it out, cast a net, and see who wants to come here and help us,” Wells said. “If we have a lot of volunteers, everything goes very quickly, we can get those animals out and stretch them out and all that stuff quickly, which is just for their benefit.”