“Why do you think this rescue is called a rescue railroad, Elias?”
“Don’t worry Kate, railroad or not, there will be puppies.”
At the end of a deserted road, we finally found the shelter. Tucked away between two massive orange farms, the shelter occupied only a few acres but we could hear the echoes of barks and squeals of young pups vying for attention. We were here for a rescue ride, my first actually. Rescue Rides had become a staple of The Dogist. It’s when we partner with a rescue organization to showcase their hard work and drive a pup home. In this case, we were tasked with a transport - moving a mother and her puppies from this rescue in the Central Valley of California to the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter outside San Diego.
Elias immediately got to work - knee pads on, camera from the rear of the Tesla, and a commitment and discipline that I have come to know well. These dogs all needed homes and he was there to help them one beautiful photograph at time.
I, of course, found myself where I am most at home, nestled beside the mom and young puppies’s cage, two fingers between the wires getting dog kisses.
One of the staff members and I started talking about what they do day to day, and her words put those cute puppies in a context that was sobering.
“Last month, we pulled puppies out of abandoned cars, destroyed homes and even burnt down barns. We are in a battle of capacity. So many puppies, never enough homes, and there are no spay/neuter laws. There’s never enough space here. People don’t get it. They think to rescue means to get an adult dog. They think you can only get a puppy from a breeder but that’s not true. We save hundreds of puppies and they all need good homes.”
The stories kept coming and I learned very quickly how devoted these women were to their work and how hard it was to do what they do daily - to rescue thousands of dogs, to care for them day after day, and to get up and do it every day knowing the problem could be drastically reduced with spay/neuter legislation. It became clear how much they were needed there. In this beautiful orange grove covered paradise in the Central Valley of California, a problem had developed – dogs running wild and countless puppies to care for as a result.
Behind us, a whir of organized activity ensued. The head of the rescue arrived, back from lobbying for the very legislation the Central Valley needs. The team from Helen Woodward Animal Animal Center – a crew of vets, vet techs and assistants – jumped out of two vans and kicked into gear and efficiently health screened more than 20 puppies – it was impressive and admittedly very cute. Elias hopped in with the young pups and their mother - the family we would take southward that afternoon - and started shooting.
The head of the organization described their process further: “We would rescue more dogs if we could but we don’t always have the room. We do these transports with organizations that have access to more families and a broader foster network. Every single thing we do matters because if a pup gets sick with something contagious then every pup becomes infected. We can’t afford to not be careful, and we wouldn’t want to not be careful. We love them, every single one of them, even if we only see them for a day.”
I looked at this woman in awe as she continued.
“We transported 980 dogs south to San Diego and 1533 north to San Francisco last year. We also had 380 adoptions. We just want to make the most difference we can and the transfers do that. They help us move them to a place where they can actually have homes. We are just a stop along the way.”
After the health screenings, portraits and paperwork were finished it was time to load the 40 or so pups into the vans and the mom and her puppies into our Tesla Model X. It was quite a scene with the falcon doors up and the car freshly packed with the precious cargo. The puppies and mom were in their respective crates, but we of course were ready with towels and cookies aplenty to have the puppies as guests one at a time up front.
Unlike other rescue rides with multiple days of driving, this one was structured a bit differently. Given the young age of the puppies, the plan was to just spend one long day in the car to get these sweet pupperonis to Helen Woodward Animal Center as soon as possible and then spend a few days photographing them and other dogs at the center. The drive was supposed to be quite simple and in the comfort of the Tesla, it truly was.
Elias drove the first leg and I the second. The passenger was on snack duty, but more importantly, puppy duty, which pretty much meant the dream of puppy snuggles and nibbles to ones pinky. In one part of the journey we drove through oil fields. Massive machines pumping the earth dry. The juxtaposition of being in such a futuristic electric vehicle put into perspective how antiquated a technology oil pumping is. It was eerie.
We took a break to charge the car and walk the pups a few hours later. The car’s navigation guided us right to the nearest Supercharger! The dogs peed, The Dogist probably did too, and we were back on the road after about 30 minutes of charging.
The rest of the drive went smoothly until about 30 miles north of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. We had gotten through LA traffic and the sun was setting beautifully over the Pacific. Elias and I had just mentioned how amazing it was that the puppies had not had a single bathroom incident (besides a little lap piddle) in the car...and yet just as Elias had finished his sentence, right on cue, there was that first waft of puppy poop. What started as subtle soon took over the cabin and it was windows down until the finish line. It was like they were all on the same schedule and nature had given them each the call.
It was 9:30pm when we finally pulled in to the Helen Woodward Campus, 11 hours since we had first arrived at the Central Valley Rescue Railroad. The tired puppies, poop and all were whisked away and the mom got a private walk and a moment of peace, Each of the puppies were cleaned and given their standard health screenings and vaccines.
Elias captured each of them receiving their treatments, and then it was bedtime for the pups. But bedtime wasn’t that simple. The pups were still weaning off of mom’s milk but they also all had teeth, so mom was NOT into the whole idea. They were all put into one room, but the staff had to create a makeshift barricade to give mom a chance to sleep without being nipped to death (pun intended?) After that, it was finally our bedtime! Mission accomplished!
Over the next few days we explored parts of Santa Barbara and revisited the center to check in on mom and her pups, who were doing great. While photographing other dogs at the shelter, Elias and I had the idea to take one of their other dogs for an overnight foster! Why not?! We surveyed the kennels and Elias chose an all black dog named Karen. After going through all the paperwork protocols, we loaded up Karen into the Tesla, just like we did before. We were getting good at this!
Karen was at first nervous, but once we let her out to stretch her legs, she eased up and started begging for our lunch like any normal dog would. She came with us to the beach, got her paws wet, and was great company as we watched The Office later. She even played a few songs for us on guitar! (that last part may have been an awesome dream). Karen slept through the night and then just as soon as it began, it was time to bring her back to the center so families could see her.
And so that was basically it! We flew out the next day after our quick whirlwind journey. We helped a whole caravan of dogs escape from the farmlands to find their future homes in and around Santa Barbara. To them, it was just a curious day in the car listening to The Allman Brothers, but it’s probably the most important day in terms of their future lives, and we’re glad and honored to have been a part of it. To be honest, we can’t wait to do it again!
Thank you so much to Tesla for making this trip happen – we couldn’t have completed this transport without such a dog friendly car. We even tested it with our own pups when we were back on the East coast, and their dog-mode feature was truly a life saver during these summer days. If you want to learn more about Tesla and all their awesome dog-friendly features, click here.