The Saving Train: An Animal Rescue Adventure

Jul 4, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Animal Rescue Adventures

by Wendy Hunter

Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares their animal rescue adventures with us every month.

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
The Shawshank Redemption

I suppose if you’re a lonely little dog, stuck in the scary confines of a shelter or rescue, life can seem a bit like starring in an emotional prison movie. You’re with a bunch of crazy critters you don’t know, you’re pretty sure you don’t belong there, the noise level is insane and some varmints just aren’t familiar with the term “personal space.” You didn’t sign up for this. You didn’t ask for 47 roommates. And you certainly didn’t agree to share a bed with a bunch of total strangers. Yuck.

You might be thinking to yourself, how the ding dang did I get here? But more importantly, how the heck do I get out of here? A myriad of other questions and ideas bounce around your fuzzy brain, like tennis balls on the sidewalk, ping-ponging their way into your dreams. Where are my humans? Who are these humans? What happened to my favorite cushion? That doesn’t smell like my favorite cushion. Where’s my squishy grey squirrel? There’s my squishy grey squirrel. Hey, get your paws off my squishy grey squirrel!

Luckily, for forlorn four-legged friends like this in California, salvation is merely a few miles away. Well, about 500 miles, give or take, and an entire state away.

Enter, The Saving Train. Okay, it’s more like a minivan than a swanky car on the Orient Express, but the passengers don’t seem to mind, especially if there are plenty of treats involved. And kisses! And tummy rubs!


ARF dogs headed off on the Saving Train

The Saving Train is an offshoot program of SoHumane, a no-kill animal rescue located in Medford, Oregon. Since its inception in April 2005, the Saving Train has saved over 5,600 dogs from extermination at various overflowing shelters, where the luxuries of time and space can quickly coming to an end. Many of these animals have been issued what is tantamount to a death sentence, just by virtue of being overlooked, even though they are completely healthy. For the 1500+ dogs the Saving Train has chosen from Animal Rescue of Fresno alone, this program is a godsend.

Recently, The Saving Train made a stop in Fresno and I had the opportunity to speak with its conductor, Hillary Hulen. She has been the Director of Shelter Operations at SoHumane since 2007. Speaking with great enthusiasm, Hulen offered some insight into how the Train came about, what keeps it running and how important it is to our community and others. I thank her in advance for taking the time to share her thoughts.

Even though I’ve been volunteering at ARF for over a year now, I wasn’t very familiar with how the whole SoHumane and ARF partnership came to be. According to Hulen, she was on the lookout to track down some smaller dogs because, “The demand is heavy in Medford, where there is a large retired senior population. They are often restricted by housing regulations that require pets to weigh less than 30 pounds.” With the help of her intake supervisor, they were able to go online and locate Linda Guthrie, the President of Animal Rescue of Fresno. Hulen admires Guthrie’s passion and knowledge, and the fact that she knows how to run a business, “Of course we want to find all dogs homes, but in the end, it is a business.”

Tia and Tamara who were adopted thanks to SoHumane

Tia and Tamara who were adopted thanks to SoHumane

The Saving Train takes in dogs from shelters, rescues and individuals every week from Northern California. In the past, it has collected dogs from further away in Nevada. However, efforts are now being concentrated in the Central Valley, where the need is great and travel time isn’t so overwhelming for the health of the dogs (about 10 hours in transit).

The Saving Train is able to accommodate 30 dogs at a time, but with careful planning; the load can be doubled to 60. A round trip of about 4-5 days includes animal selection (wiggly & happy please!), spay/neuter surgeries, and vaccines. There is also a mountain of paperwork for each dog that must be completed within the last 36 hours, because necessary documentation is critical. As Hulen puts it, “There is no rest for weary human helpers.”

The Saving Train is physically driven to the Central Valley three times a year, but will increase to four times in 2016. In addition, ARF’s colorful “Heaven Can Wait” van makes several runs a year to Medford, (depending upon need), transporting even more fortunate animals. Many of these lucky canines may be adopted within 48 hours, particularly if SoHumane is having a special event. Almost all of these deserving dogs are adopted within two weeks. For Hulen, these back and forth exchanges are greater than just road trips, “The Saving Train is more than a vehicle; it is a concept as well. They come to us – we go to them.”


ARF dogs arriving in Oregon

As you might expect, there are considerable challenges associated with rescuing animals. The biggest should come as no surprise – the expenses. The average cost to fund a dog on The Saving Train is $100 (sometimes even higher for larger dogs), which includes spay/neuter fees. In addition, there are miscellaneous travel costs, basic vaccinations, and rabies vaccinations. According to Hulen, once a dog boards the Saving Train, “a commitment is made to care for that dog until a home is found – including all medical needs.”

The ability to coordinate a variety of dogs is another hurdle, to ensure there are not multiple types, but a nice assortment. Like a lovely tin of See’s Candies. Case in point; SoHumane has already placed more than 1,000 tan Chihuahuas in Southern Oregon. That’s a lot of the same chocolate chews in a little heart-shaped box.

Hulen says that another big obstacle is “getting the dogs out” in time, before the immensely overcrowded shelters are forced to euthanize them, in order to make more room. She explains, “That is the valuable link that ARF provides; somewhere for the dogs to live until the Saving Train leaves for Oregon.” But what comes with great challenges also brings amazing rewards. When asked what the most gratifying thing is about rescuing so many desperate animals, Hulen says, “Simply knowing that we have saved precious lives of highly adoptable dogs that would have been killed, if we did not transport them to safety in Oregon.” All aboard!

If you would like to learn more about SoHumane, and/or sponsor a dog on The Saving Train, please visit their website.

You can sponsor a Trip for “Heaven Can Wait”

Every three months, ARF takes 30-100 dogs from the Central Valley and transports them to Medford, OR where they have a second chance at life and avoid certain death. Spreading the word about our good deeds can be as easy as mentioning it in your corporate publications. Many companies use employee newsletters to highlight ARF’s work, upcoming events, and unique programs. Ask about our Labor of Love for companies. Learn more on the ARF website.

And remember that 10% of your advertising fees can go to ARF when you advertise in KRL!

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section.

Wendy Hunter has been volunteering with ARF for just over a year. She grew up in Fresno and recently became an Office Assistant with Fresno County. She has been writing all of her life, though never professionally, and currently writes personalized poetry for birthdays, weddings, pet remembrances, etc.

1 Comment

  1. Please notify me of the saving trains arrivals in Medford, Oregon. When and where are those dogs available for adoption? I am looking for a maltese or shih zhu type fluffy dog for myself, but also I volunteer at memory care and hopefully will find a dog who will accompany me. Prefer mid life to older dog. Mixed breed ok. I have fenced yard, can pay the adoption fee but need a cuddler personality. Many thanks. Also, perhaps I could volunteer in some helpful way? What do you need? 5415354539 after 11am. Thanks


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.