By Carol Vinzant
How can your ability to drive help people and animals in crisis? That’s what truck driver Sue Wiese wondered after Hurricane Katrina. She wanted to help, but she didn’t think she had the skills. Then it hit her: She could transport animals to new homes—across the country, even—in the big rig she drives professionally or in her own 1994 Chevrolet Cheyenne. And perhaps she could get other truckers to do the same.
When Wiese started Operation Roger she didn’t know how her fellow truck drivers would take to the idea of letting dogs share their cabs, which are effectively both their homes and their offices. She nervously called in to a trucker radio show. Within 15 minutes, she had 12 volunteers. Fast forward to now: The group just saved its 786th dog.
The need for transporting shelter dogs, sadly, goes well beyond natural disasters. The good news is that sites like Petfinder.com help match willing families with needy shelter animals—including many dogs that are purebred, house-trained or even hypoallergenic. But once the family finds the perfect dog and the shelter approves, everyone has to figure out how to get the two parties together.
Weise sometimes pulls what she calls the Operation Roger trailer with her Cheyenne, which now has 269,000 miles on it. After the second successful ride, someone posted on their board: “Now this shows the spirit of truckers, and how they will go the extra mile when someone or something needs them to. Great Job.”
Sometimes adoptive families can make the trek. Groups like freedomtraintransports.com break down long treks into 60-90 mile segments for volunteer drivers, but the long chain can be complicated. Still, some dogs wait months for a ride, especially if the journey involves areas in the far corners of the country, like Maine or southern Florida, that aren’t on popular travel routes. Operation Roger, on the other hand, can cover huge distances in a short time with professional drivers.
Chevrolet recently debuted a new Cheyenne Concept truck: a high-powered pickup with Camaro Z/28 parts that’s 200 pounds lighter than earlier models—an exploration of just how fast a sport truck can be. Imagine how much better Wiese’s recue driving experience could be if this concept ever goes into production!
Operation Roger manages the complications of individual animals and the ever-changing schedules of professional truckers. They’ve transported all kinds of dogs (and some cats), including a 200-pound Cane Corso mastiff. In June the group rescued an American boxer named Dixie from Nashville, Tennessee, where she’d been abused, and took her all the way to North Bend, Washington, the longest transport in Operation Roger history.
Dixie’s five-week journey illustrates some of the obstacles Operation Roger has to face and why the group has now expanded to include even nonprofessional truck drivers. They enlist help from regular folks because they sometimes need more than one driver to take a dog to its new family. They also need people with cars and vans to help get the dogs from one driver to another (and sometimes to an airplane pilot). Layover homes take in dogs while they wait for their next ride. Dixie ended up receiving the help of three long-haul drivers and three layover homes. Along the way she made friends, who posted online about her antics, like trying to eat toads in a California backyard.
Learn more about volunteering with Operation Roger.
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Carol Vinzant edits AnimalTourism.com and has written for Fortune, The Washington Post and Slate, among other publications.