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It takes both skill and compassion to transport rescue dogs, horses and zoo animals

By on July 13, 2015

Welcome Waggin’

For one Tennessee company, saving rescue animals is more than a pet project

When a terminally ill mother of two wanted to give her family some comfort during the final months of her life, she decided to get a dog. She hoped this new addition to their home would provide a welcome distraction during her painful bouts of chemotherapy and radiation.

She found what she was looking for with the help of P.E.T.S., an animal transport organization that transfers dogs and cats from rescue groups to their new adoptive homes.

P.E.T.S. driver Brent Frank looks back fondly on their first meeting.

“When I saw her standing there with her family, I felt so bad for them. But in a way I felt really good about being part of bringing them this joy. It makes you feel like you’re making an impact on people’s lives,” he says. “A dog can give you the will to fight on and struggle through. They say dog is a woman’s best friend — and I think that’s especially true for her.”

Four years later, the woman is still alive and going strong — enjoying time with her family and encouraged by the unconditional love and support of her canine companion.

That’s just one of the deeply moving stories shared by P.E.T.S., which was founded in 2004 to save dogs from highkill shelters in the South and offer them a new leash on life.

“It’s so great to see people who are adopting dogs and creating a new family. It’s just a magical thing,” says James Ray, a P.E.T.S. driver who often partners with Frank on the road. “It can be hard leaving our own families behind to drive, but it’s rewarding in the end to see these kids and their parents. I really enjoy it.” He even got into a festive mood one year and dressed like an elf to deliver one girl’s Christmas wish: a dog from Santa.

This spirit of giving has been the fuel for success. P.E.T.S. owners Kyle and Pam Peterson first started out by making small transports around their home in Cookeville, Tennessee. What began as a volunteer project has now expanded into a full-time operation, with multiple stops throughout New England.

Every kind of creature

Welcome-WagginIn the past, drivers have made special runs with cats, horses, pigs and rabbits — but dogs are their domain. Last year alone, P.E.T.S. moved more than 6,000 dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds. They use climate-controlled horse trailers with USDA-approved travel crates to deliver them in a safe and comfortable environment.

“It’s important to see that the animals are doing well. There are a lot of challenges on the road and you want to make sure they’re taken care of. You have to be conscious of everything going on around you,” Ray says.

Along the 3,000-mile journey, drivers stop every six hours to walk the dogs and givethem fresh water. Once they arrive at their destination, adoptees and rescue groups are on hand to ensure a smooth transition.

“The people who are adopting dogs — they just go crazy over them. You don’t see that kind of passion all the time,” he says. “It’s awesome and hard to put into words.”

The animal transport business remains a relatively unknown part of the trucking industry. But just as a dog will answer to a high-pitched whistle, the special few drivers have heard the call.

“I’d never in my life heard of anything like this before I started. This isn’t a typical driving job where you just drop off the load and go to the next location. You have to care for and nurture these dogs,” Frank says. “I feel like what we’re doing is worthwhile and very satisfying. It’s like we’re doing God’s work.”

Horsepower of a Different Color

Fairway Horse Transport keeps on the sunny side

Fairway-Horse-TransportYou can see it coming from a mile away. A Kenworth truck painted in a thick and lustrous coat of yellow travels down the interstate with a gleaming chrome Air Ride suspension trailer right behind.

Each year, Fairway Horse Transport in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, hauls anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 horses to different locations throughout the country, primarily along the East Coast.

Owner and head driver Mark Choper has had a frontrow seat to this magnificent spectacle since he founded the company in 1989.

“I had many years of experience in the horse industry and had been around horses for basically my whole life. All I ever wanted to do was be involved with horses. I was just fascinated by them,” he says. “And I’ve always loved to travel. Driving just seemed like a natural thing to do.”

After serving as manager for several breeding and training farms in Massachusetts, Choper decided to start his own business — because of bad weather.

“In a way, we’re very lucky to have harsh winters in New England. There’s a migration of people who are moving South and want to keep their horses trained and in good shape to prepare them for the show circuit,” he says.

A gentle touch

horse-transportHorse owners are understandably concerned about the health and well-being of their prized animals. Some of them may suffer from anxiety or discomfort in transport. So reassurance is a big part of the art of safely handling horses.

“We try to make light of the experience and tell jokes so the owners feel more at ease,” Choper says. “Every company has its own secrets for making sure they’re comfortable.”

And comfort takes priority for the horses, too. During the loading process, Choper lays a soft rug on the metal ramp to dampen the sound and vibration that often frightens horses. He swaddles them in blankets for extra protection and warmth in colder climates. Once on the road, he makes frequent stops to provide the horses with water and hay (“Not so much because they need to eat, but because they need something to occupy them.”).

Choper’s philosophy of care — “a lot of common sense and a little special attention” — comes from his father.

“If you give the customer a little extra than what they paid for, you’ll get return business,” Choper says. “Every horse deserves the same respect and treatment. I think our customers like that the trucks are clean and that we’re taking care of them. In the horse industry it is so important to have communication.”

Back in the saddle

horsepowerThe sooner the drivers get moving, the better for the horses. These road trips can last up to 30 hours and time is always of the essence. Each truck is equipped with camera monitoring so that drivers can check on the horses and ensure their safety throughout the long journey.

“If you feel like something might be wrong, you can take a peek,” Choper says. “In the old days, if there was an issue, you had to stop completely. With our spring loaded trailers, the horses are much more rested. It’s just a smoother ride.”

All of this might sound like a daunting task, and certainly there are issues to contend with. But the camaraderie among the drivers who specialize in this particular kind of transport means that there is always someone to turn to for encouragement and support.

“The drivers from all the different companies get along,” he says. “It’s not an easy job; and it’s not like freight. It’s a completely different aspect of the trucking industry. But working with these animals is one of the most refreshing things. It’s just fun. I wouldn’t change a thing about what I do.”

Creature Comfort

Planned Migration transports exotic animals from one zoo to another

Creature-ComfortHis head craned forward and his body swaying to a rocking rhythm, an elephant rides across the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge in a climate-controlled trailer. A police escort surrounds the vehicle as it passes through traffic and over the Tennessee state line.

Chris Danhauer, the driver and founder of animal transport company Planned Migration, smiles from behind the wheel. He moves more than 200 animals per year so the fuss is nothing new.

“The police have always given us a hand when needed, and that’s true for most of the people I’ve met on the road,” he says. “Those guys were as helpful as could be in getting this elephant to his new home safely.”

Danhauer has served as personal chauffeur for a wide array of birds, mammals and fish — all the way from A (antelopes) to Z (zebras). He credits his rural upbringing for putting him on this highly unlikely path.

“I was a farm boy who grew up in eastern Colorado. We always had animals and I enjoyed it immensely,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to be in the zoological field.”

After nearly 13 years as a zookeeper, Danhauer looked at transportation and consultation opportunities and eventually decided to start his own business in 2000. He’s been on the road ever since, a shepherd of flocks, flights and herds galore.

A cast of characters

These animals have personalities. Some have a certain mystique; others are more playful and curious. Danhauer must make adjustments each time he has precious cargo in tow. No matter what its temperament, Danhauer ensures that the integrity of each animal is protected.

“Once we get the animals loaded, we want to get to their destination as quickly as possible,” he says. “You’re trying to make the trip as comfortable and stressfree as possible for the animal.”

Most of Danhauer’s assignments are
day trips, but he takes another driver
when traveling overnight.

“It does require a bit of pre-planning. Thankfully, a lot of the truckstops have services like water hoses, diesel fuel and food shops,” he says. “Every once in a while, you’ll have an equipment failure. When I stop at a maintenance shop, they’ll move me to the front of the line so I can be on my way.”

Danhauer has enjoyed some unforgettable moments with curious onlookers. After all, these animals provoke much more interest than the usual shipment.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to share this experience with people who may not necessarily be your usual zoo patrons, especially with the kids I see along the way,” he says. “I enjoy the travel. I get itchy if I’m home for more than two weeks at a time. Driving calms me quite a bit. It’s a lot of fun.”

Over the years, Danhauer has become smarter and more deliberate about creating a daily routine. But to his mind the desire to treat animals with compassion and respect is innate and cannot be taught or trained.

“I see it as being a musician or an artist,” he says. “I don’t think it’s something that you can learn from a textbook. You have to have a love for it. None of us are getting rich by doing this. What’s important is helping the animals and taking care of their welfare.”

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