Do you have pets at home that were adopted from rescues? Have you ever wondered how they got to that rescue? It’s possible that volunteers drove (or flew) your pet across many miles, maybe hundreds of miles, to that rescue to save your pet’s life. Over-filled animal control facilities or pounds euthanize an estimated 3.2 million dogs and cats each year; people work together to save every life possible.

Each weekend in America, an army of volunteer rescue transport drivers deliver dogs and cats to safety in an organized relay of vehicles. Hard-working volunteer transport coordinators plan the logistics, organize the four-legged passengers, and provide support by phone continuously during the entire one- or two-day operation. Drivers sign up for relay “legs” via e-mail. They meet the previous leg drivers at an appointed time, transfer the lucky dogs and cats to their vehicles, and drive to the next relay meeting spot where the process is repeated until the destination is reached.

Why do people volunteer? It takes time and money, but it is extremely rewarding. For a short time those precious lives are in your care. It means so much to know they will soon have families and you helped save their lives. If you would like to be a part of this wonderful work, please read on.

What do you need to be a volunteer animal rescue transport driver?

  • Knowledge of dog and/or cat behavior (see below)
  • Ability to keep to a schedule and work well with others
  • Reliable, safe, insured vehicle with excellent heat and/or air conditioning in all areas where animals will ride
  • Driver’s License and insurance
  • Money for gas
  • E-mail access on weekends (to get updates before your leg)
  • Cell phone
  • Watch
  • Disinfected, safe, appropriately-sized crates for animals (strongly recommended)
  • GPS might be nice to have
  • Transport Driver Kit (see below)

Knowledge of animal care and behavior

  • How to correctly fit a collar to prevent escapes
  • How to safely lift small, medium, and large animals
  • How to gently, safely crate an unwilling animal
  • How to recognize signs of stress and aggression, and act appropriately (positively)
  • How to recognize signs of illness and reduce risk of transmission

Transport Driver Kit

  • Printed “run sheet” with all transport phone numbers and details (see free template, right)
  • Crates are strongly encouraged but are not always essential
  • Freshly-cleaned bedding
  • Large clean water bowl
  • Gallon of fresh water
  • Big clean tarp (for puppy transports, so their paws don’t touch the grass/ground and pick up diseases)

Bucket or tote for the following:

  • Poopie bags (always pick up after the animals)
  • Extra collars, leashes
  • Spray cleaner (gentle, non-toxic)
  • Towels
  • Bandanna (multi-purpose use)
  • Hand wipes (antibacterial)
  • Vet wrap
  • Sterile pads and…
  • Small bottle of hydrogen peroxide (to clean any wounds)
  • Food treats (ONLY for luring escaped animals)

Typical Transport Timeline

Before a first transport for any coordinator

  • Provide information to coordinator; each coordinator may vary in requirements but they are always described in the transport emails.
  • Get the EIN number of the receiving rescue. This number might be needed for your tax return if you plan to claim your mileage.
  • Check with your insurance company to ensure your coverage will cover accident or injury of transport animals if an accident occurs. If not, talk about this with your transport coordinator.

One day ahead

  • Disinfect your crates (if using) and wipe surfaces in your vehicle to prevent germ transfer to transport animals.
  • Print the run sheet and study each animal photo and name.
  • Fill vehicle with gas.
  • Charge your phone.
  • Load all Transport Kit items in vehicle.
  • Establish your leave time: Use mapping site to estimate time in minutes to reach the pickup point and add 30 minutes.
  • Call or email the drivers on both sides of your run to ensure everyone has the same precise meeting spot and time in mind. If you find that someone is a first-timer, make note of that and do some gentle coaching when needed.

Several hours ahead

  • Monitor email from transport coordinator to learn if the transport is running early or late, and learn about any animal issues developing.
  • Program your GPS with pickup point, if using.

At your transport pickup point

  • Call incoming drivers to let them know you have arrived, warn of any unexpected circumstances, and learn their estimated arrival times.
  • Prep your vehicle and crates for loading.
  • Put out water bowls and fill.
  • When animals are unloaded, keep them leashed and separated unless someone has knowledge that certain animals like each other. Ensure that no animals have chewed through their leashes to escape when the door first opens.
  • Watch all animals to report on issues to the transport coordinator.
  • Pick up poop from “your” dogs and any others you find.
  • Let the incoming driver put the dog or cat into your vehicle, if you have concerns about lifting or temperament.
  • Avoid giving treats except for capturing a loose animal or loading a reluctant animal into a crate (avoid carsickness!).
  • Leave on time.
  • Call the transport coordinator to report your leaving time and condition of the animals.

At your transport dropoff point

  • Call incoming drivers to let them know you have arrived and warn of any unexpected circumstances and learn their estimated arrival times.
  • When drivers arrive, immediately transfer paperwork to a driver .
  • Remove animals from your vehicle and make sure each gets access to water and a short walk.
  • Pick up poop from “your” dogs and any others you find.
  • Watch all animals to report on issues to the transport coordinator.
  • Load your animals into waiting vehicles, because the animals know you better after riding with you (be flexible—drivers often feel comfortable loading animals into their vehicles when the opportunity presents itself).
  • Take a few quick photos if there is time.
  • Ensure the drivers leave on time.
  • Call the transport coordinator yourself or remind the drivers to call.

After the transport

  • Disinfect your crates and wipe surfaces in your vehicle to prevent germ transfer to your pets or to next transport animals.
  • Clean water bowls thoroughly.
  • Refill your water jug.
  • Replenish your transport driver kit as needed.
  • Email your photos to the transport distribution list and share your thoughts/feelings.
  • Keep record of the number of miles driven, the receiving rescue EIN number, and the date, if you plan to claim your expenses on your tax return.

Transport Risks and Precautions

You bond with an animal All of the animals have been selected for rescue partly based on personality. Assume that you will like all of them and you will find a few steal your heart. Remind yourself that you are helping animals find forever homes.
Stressed animals Assume all animals are suffering from stress of travel, meeting new people and animals. Give each animal a short walk and access to water at each transport spot. Handle gently. Play soothing music in the vehicle. Turn on heat or air conditioning as needed. And please leave your young children at home! Remember many undersocialized animals are fearful of children. Stressed animals may bite!
Your pets get sick after your transport NOTE: Leave your pets at home, unless you have discussed this in advance with your coordinator. Assume the transport animals have recently lived in high-volume animal shelters or very busy foster homes and they have been all exposed to various diseases. Disinfect crates and vehicle surfaces before and after transport. Wash bedding after each transport. Change your clothing when you get home before you greet your pets and wash the clothing.
The relay schedule falls behind Plan your time carefully. Socializing during transfers is common, but try to focus on the task at hand. If the transport is running late, shorten your time if you can safely.
Vehicle breakdown, causing delay of transport Keep your vehicle in excellent repair
Getting lost on the way to and from the transport points causing delay of transport Use a GPS, programmed in advance. Recruit a friend to navigate. Use a map.
Going to an incorrect transport point or wrong side of the building, causing delay of transport Always speak with drivers of legs before and after you to discuss precise meeting locations on the site, unless you and they have used the points previously. Carry your cell phone.
Escape of a stressed animal, who could potentially be run over in traffic Check collars to ensure a close fit. Before unloading, ensure leashes have not been chewed through, which leads to escape. Keep animals leashed, tethered or crated at all times. Put your hand through the leash loop and grasp the leash firmly. Don’t leave uncrated, untethered, or tethered animals in vehicles with open windows or hatches. Remember a tethered animal next to an open window may jump out and hang to death!
Escaped animal is difficult to capture Most transport animals will not respond to their names or come on command. If an animal has escaped, IMMEDIATE action is required by all transport drivers to capture the animal. This is a very difficult situation. Study methods that professionals use to capture animals. Use treats to lure the animal, sit on the ground and coax playfully, run in the other direction playfully. Remember, chasing can be the worst choice of action.
Speeding ticket and delay of transport Arrive at pickup point 30 minutes in advance and leave on time.
Sudden evasive maneuver while driving causes passengers to be flung against surfaces and become injured Crate animals or use specially-designed seat belts.
Accident due to inattentive driving resulting in injury or death of some or all passengers Have phone numbers entered into your phone. Keep animals crated or tethered at all times. Get someone to ride with you to help monitor the animals and make calls. NOTE: your vehicle insurance may not cover injuries to animals riding in your vehicle under these circumstances. Check with your insurance company.
Interruption of climate control, causing discomfort or danger to passengers during extreme weather Keep your vehicle in excellent repair
Car-sickness Don’t feed treats to transport animals. Keep spray cleaner and towels handy. Pull to the side of the road to perform cleanups. Do not be a distracted driver!
Fighting between dogs or cats Use crates to keep animals secure and separated. Keep animals separated until or unless you are certain they like each other. Monitor e-mail comments from previous legs to learn of any issues between dogs.
Injury to a struggling dog or cat during handling (falls, etc.) Learn safe handling techniques and grip firmly. Always be observant, deliberate and mindful. Let the previous driver transfer the animal into your vehicle because the animal is likely to be more trusting of the known driver.
You get scratched or otherwise injured Be knowledgeable of animal behavior and handling techniques. Be careful at all times. You don’t know the animals and they don’t know you. Most are very sweet but accidents can happen. The animals are stressed.
Damage to your vehicle from chewing or use of claws Accept responsibility for the care of your vehicle. Assume the animals will be under stress from which chewing and pawing manifest occasionally. The rescue and transport coordinator can’t assume repair costs from damage during your transport. The animals are not the responsible parties in this situation either. If you use crates and take all appropriate care, damage to your vehicle is unlikely.
Theft of animals NOTE: impromptu adoptions by transporters will be considered theft of animals. Don’t leave your vehicle unattended. Fill your gas tank before meeting at the transport point. Don’t use a Rest Stop unless you have a helper to stay with the vehicle.
Muscle strain of back or shoulders Know your physical limits and proper lift techniques. Review weight of animals in the run sheet to know which ones you can’t lift.
Animals are delivered to substandard rescues or even hoarders Review information about the receiving rescue online, and speak with your coordinator if you have concerns.