Powell volunteers save Oklahoma dogs from death row

Park County Animal Shelter kennel technician Valerie Swensrud (center) and volunteers Stephanie Tarbett (left) and Cassandra Sorrell (right), welcome four dogs to the shelter on Saturday. The canines were saved from death row in Oklahoma. (Photo by Mark Davis, Powell Tribune)

By Mark Davis

Powell Tribune

Via Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — New temporary canine residents at the Park County Animal Shelter in Cody were happy to once again have their paws on the ground, after a long trip from Oklahoma that included several transfers complicated by nasty weather.

Four dogs were brought to the facility on Saturday in an effort to save them from death row, said agency employee Valerie Swensrud.

The lucky pups — shipped by volunteers willing to take part in the 24-hour trip — are part of a larger regional effort by Hope For Paws Colorado. The rescue group, based in Aurora, Colorado, has saved more than 1,700 dogs from euthanization in southern states in the past year.

This isn’t the first time dogs from the Sooner State have made the trip to Cody. And area families have responded with quick adoptions, Swensrud said. “We just had to get appointments for the first batch to be spayed or neutered and then they were gone.”

None of the dogs that arrived last week are spoken for (as of press time) and Swensrud is now hopefully searching for forever homes. The Cody shelter was lucky to have room to accommodate the rescued dogs. That is not the case elsewhere.

“It’s a problem in most southern states,” Stacey Zahn, a volunteer for shelters in the Tulsa suburbs. “We never send a dog south from here.”

Most shelters in southern states are overflowing with adoptable dogs. In some cases, rescue organizations take responsibility for dogs rounded up by municipal shelters, which have as little as three days to be picked up before being euthanized, Zahn said. The rescue groups are overcrowded as well.

“Our rescues in Oklahoma are just as packed as the shelters. We don’t even know what it’s like to have vacancies,” Zahn said.

The help, she said, is “a life saver.”

“We have to get them on the transports to Colorado weekly to keep them alive,” Zahn said. “We try to do everything possible not to euthanize strays, but it’s a constant battle.”

About 90 percent of medium to large dogs from Oklahoma would be put down if not for the opportunity to distribute them to western homes, she said.

Julie Jury, of Aurora, Colorado, saw a need to rescue dogs from the southern states three years ago after learning of the issue while volunteering for a local rescue.

“Dogs are kind of disposable in the area,” Jury said.

She quit her “unfulfilling” job in the legal industry and started Hope For Paws Colorado.

“It fills my soul seeing rescued dogs come in every week, knowing they finally have a chance at a nice life,” Jury said.

The non-profit organization pulls dogs, cats, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and even Guinea pigs from shelters in southern and midwestern states — many with adoption rates as low as 20 percent. Working with more than 90 rescue groups, they transport the pets to Aurora and then send them to no-kill shelters throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

The group has saved more than 3,800 dogs alone in the past three years, including 1,700 canines in 2018. They rely on word of mouth to find volunteers and donations to run the program. Jury doesn’t draw a paycheck for her efforts.

Volunteers drive the long legs of the weekly transports. Local volunteers Cassandra Sorrell and Mark Henke picked up the four newly rescued dogs in Casper and delivered them to the shelter. They responded to a call for help from Swensrud on social media sites.

“This is what I love: animals. Since I can’t adopt all of them, I try to help where I can,” Sorrell said. She already has three dogs in her family and three foster dogs, including two permanent fosters fighting cancer.

Henke was inspired by the trip.

“They were just amazing,” he said of the passengers during the long drive. Henke doesn’t have a dog right now, but felt it was important to lend a hand.

With most of the kennels in the Park County Animal Shelter now filled, the Cody-based organization is searching for good forever homes for cats and dogs. They are also looking for volunteers willing to take dogs on a walk while they wait for adoption.

“Its takes quite a village to save these dogs,” Zahn said.