How rescuers are giving dogs and cats a second chance at life

By: Olivia Paladino

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It’s 6 AM on a Thursday, and at a gas station parking lot in the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, a rescue operation is underway.

“We’ve been on the road since 9 AM yesterday,” Robert says, with a touch of pride.

Robert is a volunteer with START Rescue — a non-profit that works to save the lives of pets by transporting them from high-kill shelters in southern California to no-kill shelters in the Pacific Northwest.  


“Over the last 6 years we’ve rescued 9,000 dogs and cats,” says Rene Ruston, one of the co-founders of START Rescue.  What started six years ago as a group of friends volunteering their time has grown into a successful non-profit with a network of dedicated volunteers.

A nationwide network of volunteers

The dogs (and cats!) are transported by START Rescue on a retrofitted RV truck the volunteers lovingly refer to as “The Beast”.  The Beast rolls out every month, traveling hundreds of miles and saving hundreds of pets along the way.  At this stop in Eugene, START Rescue staff unloads and hands off rescued dogs to a local no-kill shelter called Luvable.

Front of animal shelter

"It started to occur to some of us that if we could communicate better, set up these transport partnerships, and get the dogs from where there were too many up to where there weren't enough, then we could save lives,” says Liesl Wilhardt, the founder and executive director of Luvable Dog Rescue.

Everyone needs to be in constant communication.

Liesl Wilhardt

To help save as many animals as possible, START Rescue often teams up with Wings of Rescue — another non-profit that works with volunteer pilots to fly dogs and cats out of high-kill shelters.

"We fly all around the United States,” Says Ric Browde, the logistics coordinator for Wings of Rescue, “from California to locations all around the country." 

Dog examined by shelter volunteers

It takes a lot of communication to keep these trucks and planes running.

"I am coordinating with the shelters, pulling dogs from bad situations, getting them on our transport,” says Candace Modrell, the director of transportation for START Rescue.  With a puppy in her one hand and a checklist in the other, she smiles and says, “It's constant."

Woman holding dog

Once the pets are on the road, they are handed off to no-kill shelters where they’re given a second chance at life.  With 55-plus acres in the beautiful Oregon hills, Luvable Dog Rescue is more like a sanctuary than a shelter.  Here, dogs live together in cabins, not kennels.  

Woman with dog by a lake

Because of its remote location, reliable communication is paramount at Luvable.

"Everyone needs to be in constant communication,” says Liesl.  “So after trying other cellular services that were not reliable, it's kind of a rule here that you have to have Verizon."

Woman taking selfie with dog

Second chances and happy endings

This network of transporters, shelters and volunteers has saved the lives of thousands of animals. Together, START Rescue, Wings of Rescue and Luvable have saved over 35,000 pets.

Wicket is one such pup.

Born without eyes, Wicket was slated to be euthanized at an early age.  Lucky for him, he was rescued by START Rescue and transported to Luvable.  Christine, his trainer at Luvable, says she can relate to him because she too was born with a disability. Christine was born deaf.

“Who knows where he would have ended up in the shelter? They probably would have euthanized him just because of his disability.  At Luvable, we embrace all disabilities," said Christine, while playing fetch with Wicket.  

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About the author:

Olivia Paladino is a member of Verizon’s external communications team where she pours her energy into creating engaging content. But when Olivia's not cooking up a story, she’s whipping up something tasty to eat. Olivia loves making delicious dishes for her big, Italian family — as seen on her Instagram.

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