EDENTON — In just under three years of transporting animals from the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Tyner, volunteer Earl Johns of Edenton has driven nearly 11,000 miles for the cause.
On a Sunday afternoon last month, as Johns played in his driveway with Dakota, a Lab/Chow mix he was fostering, he talked about his work on behalf of the shelter rescue operation for which he has spent 140 days so far this year on the road.
“He’s just getting out of his puppy stage,” Johns said as he petted Dakota. “He’s stopped chewing everything up but he still wants lots of attention.”
Dakota whose stay with Johns was followed by a trip to a rescue group in New York is one of the shelter’s success stories from 2012.
Friends of the Shelter board member Barbara Yates said that the rescue transport operation is crucial to the survival of animals at the local shelter that serves Chowan, Gates and Perquimans counties.
“Since we cannot adopt our way out of the pet overpopulation problem, the primary mission of our group has been to get animals to rescue groups or shelters in larger populated areas,” Yates told the Chowan County Commissioners at their Dec. 3 meeting during an annual appearance to update them on the activities of the Friends group and the progress being made at the shelter.
“I am pleased to report that since our efforts began almost three years ago, 740 dogs and cats have been sent to new lives with a savings to the county of approximately $4,000 in euthanasia costs alone,” Yates continued.
Yates said that since it sometimes takes a few days or weeks for a rescue group to be ready to accept an animal, the Friends group has established the Tri-County Animal Assistance Fund. That fund allows animals going to rescue to be boarded at the Chowan Animal Hospital in Edenton until travel plans can be completed.
“Since the shelter is almost always full, moving the rescued animals out of the shelter allows kennel space to be made available so other animals can live,” Yates said during her presentation. “The fund also pays for the health certificate that is required to transport animals across state lines.”
Yates told the commissioners that as of December, the fund had received over $25,000 in donations thanks to the generosity of area citizens. “And just to say, we are always in the red and donations are constantly needed.”
Many of those donors are people like Johns, who have heard the group’s message and been moved to respond with either donations of time or money.
In his case, it was Friends board member Mary Jo Sellers who talked with him during morning visits to the Edenton Coffee House. “Her commitment really impressed me,” Johns said. “I got into this to help Mary Jo. The need is just so great.”
Sellers said Johns is “a true hero” for his devotion to volunteering as a transporter for animals in need.
“He is one of about a dozen people that help us,” Sellers said.
Sellers said that in addition to New York, animals from the local shelter are driven to rescue operations in Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland and Rocky Mount. A variety of volunteer transporters participate in various legs of the journey.
Johns said his wife has consistently been his biggest supporter.
“I’m fortunate my wife Gloria supports what I do because it takes a lot
of time away from home,” Johns said.
Gloria Johns said that she was proud of the work her husband was doing. In fact, she used to assist him until an ailing back slowed her, she said.
“I’m so glad that he likes to do it (rescue),” she said. “It gives both of us a real sense of satisfaction to know these beautiful animals are not put down.”
Over all the miles and the hours spent behind the wheel helping animals find a new life, Earl Johns said there are some that still stand out in his memory.
“There’s a couple I just got really attached to,” he said.
One was a young chocolate Lab picked up in Gates County whose leg was just dangling when he first saw him.
Johns was responding to a call from the shelter in Tyner that there was a seriously injured dog that needed to be transported to Chowan Animal Hospital.
Johns said that he tried to clean the dog off before taking him in to see the vet.
“I washed him off and cleaned away the maggots he had on him, and he licked my hand,” Johns said, choking up at the memory. “He didn’t try to bite me, although I know he was in pain.”
“Heart,” as the Lab came to be known, was taken in by a rescue group in Virginia that paid his medical expenses and helped him regain his health. Otherwise, he would have been euthanized because of the expense involved, Johns said.
“I took him up there and they took his leg off,” Johns said. “A young woman taught him how to walk again and when the time came that he could be adopted, she said she just couldn’t let him go, so she adopted him herself.”
Johns said he shares this story with others to explain how so many rescue groups work hand in hand to save as many animals as possible.
“In this case, our angel was a Lab rescue director named Steerie Weber who said, if you can get him here, we’ll take him. Within the hour, I was on my way there,” Johns said.
Others, like Dakota, were obviously someone’s pets at some time in their lives.
“I’ve never seen a dog dance like Dakota does,” Johns said. “And he knows and responds to some commands, so somebody has worked with him in the past to teach him those things.”
Johns said that one of his most rewarding moments comes when he is able to take a dog out of the shelter and begin the journey to a rescue facility.
“Somehow, some way, they know their lives are being saved,” Johns said. “Their eyes get brighter and their tails begin to wag. They just come alive.”
So far this year, nearly 1,500 animals have been euthanized at the local shelter, according to director Dana Goheen. That number would be higher, she said, if it were not in part for the Friends group getting animals out to rescue groups.
“The number of animals that have been sent to rescue alone this year is 307,” Goheen said. “Without caring people like Earl Johns, these animals would never have gotten a second chance at life.”