HOULTON, Maine — Some people will go a long way to helping animals in need of a new home.
The Houlton Humane Society is one of these groups, and for the past two years it has been helping rescue dogs from the Deep South who were slated to be executed.
Heather Miller, executive director of the Houlton Humane Society, said she gets asked on an almost daily basis why the shelter transports dogs from southern states to Houlton for adoption.
“My response is always the same,” Miller said. “Why not?”
Miller said it all started when her shelter was unable to keep up with the demand of people wanting to adopt dogs, so she began searching elsewhere to see if other shelters had animals they could take. That effort then spiraled into a daily plea from agencies located in such southern states as Georgia and South Carolina to take their animals due to overcrowding problems there.
Miller said demand for dogs has increased dramatically in the Houlton area, with more and more people contacting her shelter to see if they have any for adoption. Many other shelters around the state also are importing dogs to keep up with demand and to help spare lives.
“Every morning, I turn on my computer and get upwards of 40 emails of pictures of dogs and cats who are going to die,” Miller said. “In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how this (bringing dogs in) would fit into our community. Then I started looking at the fact that I had four to five empty dog cages, so why not?”
The Houlton shelter teamed up with the Connecticut Underhound Railroad animal rescue organization to bring dogs to Maine for the past two years.
The Connecticut Underhound Railroad was formed in 2009 by Irene Williams and Hope Cruser to rescue dogs from kill shelters in Connecticut. It quickly expanded to save animals throughout New England and today, reaches out to shelters around the country.
“We couldn’t do what we do without them,” Miller said. “I have become good friends with Hope, who is their Maine director.”
In 2012, the Houlton shelter took in 14 dogs from other shelters and had 26 owner-surrendered dogs. Since forming the partnership, the local shelter has saved 113 animals over the two-year period.
How dedicated is the Houlton Humane Society in bringing puppies and grown dogs to meet their new owners? Miller was on her way to pick up the latest round of dogs on Feb. 17 as much of the state was under a blizzard warning from the National Weather Service.
The animals are taken from the shelters in the south and placed with foster families until they are completely “vetted” to Maine’s standards, Miller said. The Houlton shelter has import licenses with the Department of Agriculture and the Maine Animal Welfare Department which state all animals have to be spayed or neutered before they can enter.
Puppies must have three sets of vaccinations, while older dogs need to have two. The animals also must be tested for Lyme disease and heartworm. They also must be microchipped and be given the “kennel cough” vaccine, Miller said.
All of those shots run about $120 and take about a month to complete.
During that time, the animals stay in foster homes in the South. The shelter charges $200 for an adoption fee on these animals, but does not make any money on the transaction as $120 goes to the southern shelter for shots and an additional $85 is used to pay for transportation.
Once they arrive in the state, the dogs are quarantined for another five days before they can be adopted. Many of the canines travel an average of 1,320 miles to make it to their homes in The County.
Miller also noted that none of the funds that the shelter receives from area towns is used to bring animals from outside the area. All of the funds given by municipalities is used solely for stray animals.
In addition, many of the animals that are brought up from southern states already have homes waiting for them through pre-adoption forms. About 80 percent of those brought in already have an owner waiting for them.
“I know I can always place labs and puppies,” Miller said. “I try to stick with those dogs that I know people want to have. We don’t bring up any dogs who are aggressive, because I don’t want to bring that into our area.”
Jeannie Tapley of Monticello is one of those people waiting patiently for their southern dog to arrive.
“He will be here this month,” Tapley said. “We have done our pre-adopt application and the necessary steps. Houlton Humane Society truly wants these animals to go to the best homes possible and may even require a home visit to make sure the animals will be well cared for. I feel that is amazing.”
Tapley said she admires the shelter for its commitment to saving dogs.
“I have watched their Facebook page often to see if there was a southern dog on there that might be a good fit for me and my family,” she said. “One day as I was looking at their page, a face stole my heart. I fell in love with his picture instantly and knew he was the addition to our family that we have been looking for. His name is Boss. He will be here and up for adoption approximately Feb. 26. We have a huge star with his name in it on our calendar when we get to bring him home. We can’t wait to meet him.”
Tapley added she chose to adopt from Houlton Humane Society because of the commitment and dedication to the animals.
“They are genuinely kind people that just want the best for the animals,” she said. “They really put their heart and souls into saving these animals and giving them the chance at a wonderful life. These southern dogs are facing death and HHS pulls them and gives them a new opportunity in life. They love all animals, no matter where they are from.”