Underdog Railroad: Rescuing Dogs Through Transport

Depending on where you live, dogs turned in to animal control have different chances at life or death. In some places animal controls have a high euthanasia rate.  They just have a lot more dogs than they have space for or can afford to house.  Basically there’s more supply than demand.  Sometimes they have to put down 80% or more of the animals they get. Other places, often in the Midwest or Canada, have people that want to adopt dogs but there aren’t enough.  Or rescues and people in these places are willing to take dogs until they find a home.  The need lies in getting these dogs from one place to another.  One way that this is accomplished is through transport networks of drivers, sometimes nicknamed “underdog railroads.”  Individuals volunteer to drive a few pets for a distance.  By breaking up the drive so each participant drives a shorter distance, it lessens the burden for volunteers.

Over the past couple of months I’ve gotten involved in one of these transport networks called Bootheel Paws Express. This group takes animals from Southeast Missouri to rescue groups throughout the Midwest.  I’ve done legs from Springfield to Bloomington IL, and/or Bloomington to Oglesby IL.  In this post I hope to give you a feel for what it’s like, and hopefully you’ll consider getting involved in some way near you.

I start getting ready the day before because I am not a morning person. Getting ready isn’t that hard.  Having crates to put the dogs in allows you to take more dogs.  One reason is for the dog’s safety, but also these dogs don’t know each other and this is a somewhat stressful process for them.  So having a safe place of their own in the car is very helpful.  I drive a little car so I put one large crate in my backseat and one in the back hatch area.  One dog rides shotgun too.  So the night before the transport I set those up with potty pads in them taped down.  I put water bowls in each and pack extra water, potty pads, paper towels, poop bags, bleach wipes, some treats and leashes .These dogs don’t know what’s going on and having two leashes on each dog can help you avoid escapes.  Oh, and they like you to wear gloves if you’ll be handling very young pups.


On the transport I go on, they have places that they’ve been using for awhile as meeting spots with grass, parking, and room to move. When you get there you find the people that had your dogs on the leg before you.  They will often have tips for you about how the dog did.  If they’ve had all their shots and are good on a leash, you can put their leash(s) on them, give them a potty break, and take them to your car.  Some dogs are “no paws on the ground” usually meaning they’ve not been fully vaccinated yet.  I usually carry those.  Sometimes they come with a chew or toy or other things you can put in there with them.

The ride is usually about an hour or hour and a half for this group. Usually the potty pads get used.  Some dogs are more nervous than others so they respond differently.  I drive alone so I play an audio book or music of some sort.  I think about what must be going through their mind.  They’ve been uprooted from their people and place, and taken to a shelter with a bunch of strange dogs in a loud place.  Then some other strangers pick them up and they go in a car or truck for a short time.  Then before they know it, they’re taken out of that crate by another stranger and put in another crate with new people, sounds, smells and surroundings every hour or so.  It must be very stressful, so I try to talk calmly and happily to them, and not drive like my usual, ummmm, crazy self.


So not much later you arrive at the next meet up point and work on trying to find their next transporter. I try to remember to hand off anything the dogs might have come with.  Also I share how they did on the trip and any other advice.  If they made a smelly mess in a crate I clean it at that point before my drive home.

So why go to the trouble and spend part of your Saturday taking care of strange dogs and riding with them? I do it for three reasons I guess.  One is I just love dogs and their company. I love my husband too, but he usually sleeps in on Saturdays 😉  Plus it’s not like I do it every Saturday.  This transport goes every other Saturday, in the summer at least, but you don’t have to go on every one.  My second reason is because people have done this to these dogs.  We humans domesticated dogs and brought them into our homes and lives.  And humans have abandoned them.  As a human it’s only fair we do our best to help them.  Thirdly I’ve always gotten my dogs from rescues or shelters.  Where will I get my next dog if I don’t keep the supply going?  Just kidding!


So what do you think? Is it something you could do if there’s a transport going by you?  If not, could you financially support one of these groups?  Or even just support your local shelter or rescue.  There’s a lot of need out there for people who take care of homeless dogs!

Have you ever done a transport or know of one in your area? Please let us know in the comments.  Also let me know any questions you still have or other comments.

And then get out there and have a great day with your own dog!