'Dixie dogs' head north
But is this rescue effort the best thing for pooches transported from the South?
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It's not that Southerners, especially in rural areas, don't love dogs, says Jack Kirby, a self described "dog man" and author of an environmental history of the South. But attitudes about dogs as chattel plus the price to spay – starting at $125 – makes spaying a nonstarter for many, he says.Skip to next paragraph
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"Southerners love dogs, as many as possible, as essential companions in travel and hunting," writes Mr. Kirby in an e-mail from St. Augustine, Fla. But he adds, "There's a tradition of individualism and sovereignty that poorly serves the dog and cat surpluses attributable to human carelessness."
The sheer numbers of dogs being euthanized – one shelter in north Georgia that sends dogs out of state still euthanizes nearly 3,000 a year – have become a burden on animal-rescue groups in the South, who see little legislative will to strengthen spay-and-neuter laws. When such a bill was brought up in Mississippi several years ago, rural legislators hooted, says Mr. Atkins. Georgia didn't pass a dogfighting law until the Vick story broke.
Out-of-state transports intensified after hurricane Katrina as new networks sprung up, connecting shelter workers facing growing demand in the North with exhausted, and often demoralized, workers in Southern states.
"Not only are we partnering, which is always a joyful experience, we're saving lives," says Lisa Dennison, director of the New Hampshire SPCA in Stratham. "We're meeting a need in New England and we're giving shelter workers [in the South and Midwest] hope that they don't have to euthanize dog after dog after dog. What difference does it make where the animals come from?"
But it can make a difference, some critics say. This spring, animal-control officers in some Maine and New Hampshire towns began sharing reports of Southern dogs getting into fights in public places. Recently, a Great Dane from Kentucky came to Rochester, N.H., with no indication of behavioral problems. It turned out that the dog came from an abusive household, where it lashed out to protect children – a scary surprise for one mom who was reprimanding her daughter and almost got bitten.
With behavior training, the big dog was able to be saved and adopted out. Dogs coming from stressful situations tend to take more behavioral work, experts say, which new owners aren't always able to handle. One dog in Maine recently bounced around six homes before finally being euthanized, causing the Portsmouth, N.H., Herald to run the headline: "Animal officers: Rescued dogs from South proving dangerous."
The New Hampshire Federation of Humane Societies committee held a seminar on transport dogs in April as concerns rise about diseased and misbehaved dogs coming northward.
Exeter, N.H., animal control officer Neal Jones calls some rescuers "Animal Planet people" driven by a need to rescue animals from "horrible conditions" in the South. "It's a connection where they want to do something for an abused animal," says Mr. Jones.
For rescuers like Mr. Atkins, notions of saving all the South's dogs have faded to the humbler hope of simply saving dogs one at a time. "We're not going to fix the problem, but for that individual dog, having a good life means everything to them."