There are moments in life that are remembered as remarkable and awe-inspiring. I had one such moment in the fall of 2004 that indelibly has left its’ mark on my way of thinking and manner of living …
Burial site of St. Francis; Assissi, Italy
The highlight of my trip to northern Italy in early October of 2004 was visiting Assisi to stand in front of St. Francis’ tomb and ask for something … anything, that I could do to make a difference in helping the stray and unwanted animals of my local shelter in Nashville, Indiana find homes. Having volunteered for over 20 years in animal rescue, I had become increasingly frustrated by the senseless killing that happens each year at shelters. It had become emotionally draining for me to go to the shelter and walk dogs who I knew would be euthanized within the next few days because the kennels were overcrowded. All those who work in animal welfare and rescue very well know of this frustration …. wanting so desperately to do something to help. This is why I asked St. Francis for help! Leaving the Assisi cathedral, I felt no different than when I had entered .. but I hoped for inspiration.
Later that month, sitting in my office on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana, an idea came so swift into my mind that I stopped everything I was doing and sat in amazement. The idea told me to go to my file cabinet that evening at home and find the Boston Globe newspaper article someone had sent me 2 years before describing a project that transported satos … homeless dogs of Puerto Rico flown by commercial airlines to Boston. (NOTE: I had found a sato on a business trip to Puerto Rico that same year and he came home to live with me; the newspaper article had been sent to me by a friend and I had filed it as a matter of interest.) I couldn’t wait to reach my home that evening to re-read the article. If dogs could be transported from Puerto Rico to Boston, it had to be possible for us to transport dogs from Indiana to New England. This had been the inspiration I had been waiting for – St. Francis had sent his message!
The next day, I called the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Massachusetts and talked with Betty Bilton who organized the Save-A-Sato transport program. When I talked with Betty about the possibility of transporting dogs by cargo vans from Indiana to New England, she said that this was a very long way to transport dogs and didn’t know if it would be possible. I told Betty I would pay for the first transport and if the dogs arrived safely and met her expectations, would she be willing to accept dogs on a monthly basis. The answer was “yes”!
Throughout November 2004, I called several other New England shelters and posed the same proposition – all accepting the offer. Full of excitement, I talked with several Indiana shelters and rescue groups throughout November 2004 to ask if they would be willing to become part of this collaborative project. Of course, I had my share of comments, such as, “what you are proposing, can’t be done.” However, I was confident that the transport was feasible and certainly worth trying. The first transport to New England was driven in December of 2004. taking a total of 32 Indiana shelter dogs to Boston area shelters.
Now, in our 13th year, 10,921 dogs and 230 cats transported, and over 100 shelter staff and volunteers involved, the CanINE Express Transport Project continues to bring Indiana shelter dogs to New England each month. When people ask about the CanINE Express Transport Project, I say that the project is a true collaboration in every sense of the word. Participating shelters and rescue groups on both the Indiana and New England sides work extremely hard each month to prepare dogs for transport and adoption. We have all learned much from each other and have become colleagues and comrades joined in spirit to help the dogs. I continue to organize and drive the transport each month knowing that St. Francis is surely watching over all of us!
Cathi L. Eagan, CanINE Express Transport Project
Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them whenever they require it.
St. Francis of Assisi