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Kidsday interviews stars of “Last Chance Highway"

We met Shelly Bookwalter and Kyle Peterson the two stars (maybe we should call them heroes?) for Animal Planet’s “Last Chance Highway,” when they were in Manhattan last month.

What is your goal with the new series “Last Chance Highway”?

KYLE: I think the goal of “Last Chance Highway” is to bring awareness to the issue that we’re trying to help the overpopulation of shelters in the southern and rural parts of the United States. And we’re trying to eliminate the problem. If we could make five more people aware of it, it will be great. Five million people at best

What do you do with the animals that you can’t find homes?

SHELLY: Well we always try to find them a home or they’re going to stay with us, but it don’t matter if it takes six days, six months, seven months. We’ll find them a home. There’s always somebody out there for every animal.

So the both of you own several animals?

KYLE: Yeah, my wife and I have 19 dogs and 4 cats. Shelley’s probably got me beat.
SHELLY: I got 25 to 30 dogs.

Do you find it hard to give up some of the dogs?

KYLE: Sometimes especially if you have a foster, I help foster as well. My wife does. If they happen to be kept for six months to a year, when you finally find it a home, it’s kind of heart-breaking sometimes, but you know in the end it’s better, that’s means there’s one or two more that you can save.

Do you follow up with the owners of the rescue dogs?

SHELLY: I get so many pictures and emails every day. I’ve adopted a dog a year ago; I still get pictures and emails. I love it.

How far do you travel to find the dogs?

KYLE: We travel the entire eastern part of the United States, from Little Rock, Arkansas, all the way up to Maine on the East Coast. So about 3,000 miles a week. And then the dogs we pick up along the way are from all those connecting states. We cover pretty much the entire eastern United States. So we have people who will drive four to five hours to meet us to give us a dog, to take to someone who’s driven four to five hours to meet us to pick up the dog. So it covers a very large part of the country.

Is there a most common area to find stray animals?

SHELLY: I live in Mississippi, it’s a rural area, and there are so many dogs on the side of the road and in the shelters who are just breeding and just mass puppies everywhere. So in the rural areas of Mississippi, they’re everywhere.
KYLE: That’s kind of the problem all over the rural part of the U.S. The spay and neuter laws are not strictly enforced, so it causes a problem.

How long have you been rescuing dogs?

KYLE: My wife and I have been involved in rescue and transport for about a little over 10 years. We have been in business about six years and I know Shelly it’s life long.
SHELLY: I’ve been doing it for about 17 years. In the past we have not been able to find homes for them until we hooked up with Kyle Peterson Transport and he’s shipping them up there just as fast as we could put them on. So it’s great.

Why do you only rescue dogs?

SHELLY: That’s a good question.
KYLE: For us it’s a passion we’ve always, my wife and I love dogs, and it seems to be a bigger problem. Cats are, there’s a lot of areas that have a problem with feral cats, an overrun of cats and cats are really, if you have cats, you know they can really handle themselves in the wild, and take care of themselves and they’re hard to catch. Dogs in the other hand are a little more dependent upon people. They’re co-dependent on people so they’re a little more needy and honestly a bigger demand of an overrun of dogs.

How many dogs have you cared for at one time until you found them a home?

KYLE: Countless. Like I said we keep between 15 to 20 at our house all the time. So it’s a never-ending cycle.
SHELLY: I think the most I’ve ever had was about 32 to 33 at one time and it’s chaos.

How do you choose which dogs you’re going to save and which ones are going to the death row?

SHELLY: That’s very hard. That’s the hardest part of this job. You have to pick what’s adoptable and there’s a few that even I know would take a long time to adopt. I still would take them. That’s the hardest part because it’s always a fight just trying to get them out of there because they’re just looking at you with those poor pitiful eyes and you can’t really stand it. A lot of times I’ll try to hurry back and get them, the ones I had to leave before they’re put down. I can’t save them all, but I sure try.

Shelly, was there one particular dog that you just fell in love with?

SHELLY: I’ve fallen in love with almost every one of them. I can’t just pick a favorite. I’ve never had been able to. My husband will pick a favorite. He kept one that was a little show, Rusty, a Chihuahua, that kind of surprised me. I know they’re going to get a better home in the end and I can save more because everyone I keep I wouldn’t be able to take in and foster.

What is the worst condition you ever found a dog?

KYLE: Fortunately, from our end we get to deal with them when they’re ready to go to their new home. We’ve seen some horrific stories or horrific things that people do to dogs. It’s sickening. One just off the top of my head, a couple of years ago they found a dog that we delivered up here to New York, the New York City area, that she was found in a pen with six other dogs that have been shot to death and she was hiding under the other dogs. She’s a beautiful Doberman. It’s just awful and she’s in a great home now. Those types of things, I know Shelly’s seen a lot worse than I, but it’s awful.
SHELLY: We got one dog that’s named Hope, that’s going to be on the show. She was eaten up with mange and very feral and she got to be adopted in New York, here in Manhattan, and she’s on the show and you’ll get to see her. She was in bad shape.

Do you interview the people who would like to adopt to make sure they’re going to a good home?

SHELLY: Absolutely. We start out with an application. It’s very detailed. It’s got a lot of questions on it, we do vet check, if they got a vet, had dogs in the past or cats. And we also do reference and then we give them a full interview. You got to be very special to get one of our babies.

Why do you place dogs in the Northeast from Pennsylvania to Maine and not find homes for them in the South or local places?

KYLE: I think it’s kind of a supply and demand kind of thing. In the South, obviously, we’re overrun with dogs in the shelters and the people that are in the South they don’t even think about going to the shelter to get a dog, they can pick one up off the street. Whereas in the Northeast there’s a giant population mass, mostly the U.S. population, 20 to 30 percent lives in the northeast corridor and so with all those people, there’s an overabundance of people who want dogs and then with strictly enforced spay and neuter laws and leash laws, there’s not that many dogs in the shelters. We have a lot of dogs in the South and a lot of people in the Northeast that want dogs and it just kind of works out that way. We try to adopt a lot hopefully, but for placing a lot of dogs it’s easier to go where there’s more people that want dogs all the time.

Have you ever had a family wanting to give up the dog or give it back to you?

KYLE: Unfortunately, every once in awhile it happens. We want that dog to be in a great home. If Shelly has a dog that needs to come back I’ll pick it up and bring it back to her and she’ll find another home or we’ll take it back to wherever it needs to go. If it doesn’t work out we’ll find it a new home.
SHELLY: We try to make sure it’s a good match and a friendly animal. Most of the time we do, we have very few returned. If it doesn’t work out we’re there for the dog. And Kyle picks it up and brings it back to me at no charge.

If you could give someone one tip on how to be a responsible pet owner, what would it be?

KYLE: Have your animals spayed and neutered before anything else.
SHELLY: Spayed and neutered. That would help.

Have you ever been injured or bitten by one of the stray dogs?

KYLE: I have been bitten countless times honestly. I had part of my finger bitten off a few years ago trying to break up a dog fight. That’s probably the worst injury, but a lot of dogs that we transport are scared and they’re not biting because they’re mean or aggressive. It’s the fear thing and especially small dogs they tend to be nippy, but overall they’re good dogs. Every once in awhile you have to really pay attention to what you’re doing because if a big dog gets a hold of you, you can lose fingers, arms and legs.

Was there ever a dog you were unable to save?

SHELLY: I’ve had a few. I think the main thing is we get dogs that have heartworm. Because in the South there’s a lot of mosquitoes and they get bad heartworm if they’re too old to treat. We do x-rays on the heart if there’s any question and we try to save them, but some of them we have to euthanize and it’s better than suffering. But that’s about it.

Since you guys have been doing this, can you give us the happiest moment?

SHELLY: They’re all happy moments when they get adopted. That’s so great – we love it.
KYLE: We have people every week when we show up to drop off the dogs bringing balloons and cheering and signs and everything. So it’s very rewarding for our end of the business or what we do to see that every week and see the people who are just thrilled beyond belief to get a dog that was unwanted would have been euthanized if they didn’t save it. So every week there’s a new happy moment.

Do any companies support you financially so you can provide the treatment and care for the strays?

SHELLY: No, it’s out of our pocket.
KYLE: Again we get paid by the adopters. It’s part of the adoption fee. So we’re a self-supporting business. We don’t get… I’d love some grants or corporate sponsorship. There’s been some sponsors involved with the television show, PetFinder.com, Pedigree dog food is helping sponsor the show and that’s been a big help. Most of the rescue groups need the sponsorship. We’re an operating business.
SHELLY: We’re working on that. My group just formed a 501.3C so we’re hoping to get some donations and things to help to save more.

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