“ANIMAL CHAMPIONS – FREEDOM DRIVERS hit the road to find at-risk animals”

“ANIMAL CHAMPIONS – FREEDOM DRIVERS hit the road to find at-risk animals”

Louise Crandall, Ottawa Citizen

November 21, 2015, Ottawa

Every couple of weeks Christine Thomson, one of 235 registered drivers belonging to Freedom Drivers: Animal Rescue Transports, drives to Hawkesbury where she retrieves one or more dogs that have been picked up from a Greater Montreal area “high-kill pound”. The drivers volunteer their time, vehicles and gas to transport dogs, cats and other animals from five Montreal pounds to rescue groups in Ontario and Quebec. For example, Christine drives back to Ottawa and drops off the animals that she has received at a pre-arranged dog rescue or a foster home, all in one day. Each driver does a leg of about 100 kilometres in relay fashion and signs up for the leg of their choice, the early morning run to Montreal being the most difficult to fill.

Volunteer coordinators arrange the transports and make the run at least five times a week using the highway 401 not only toward Toronto but also to Ottawa and the Maritimes. Most of the drivers have animals themselves or are involved in animal rescue.

Back to Christine: she has a dog sitting business, Bone Voyage, and, after hearing about Freedom Drivers from a friend, she has made over 15 runs. She has had no problems with the dogs travelling together; but she can separate them with a barrier if required. She remembers one dog that was crying behind the barrier; but calmed down and slept after her seven year old son took the pooch into the back seat with him.

Tanya Thorpe of Montreal, a dog rescuer, founded Freedom Drivers in June 2014 because many Montreal pounds have restrictions regarding how long they can keep an animal. One pound only keeps dogs for a few days before euthanizing them and cats

fare much worse, with up to 70 per cent of them being euthanized. Between January and November 2015, 400 to 500 dogs and a similar number of cats have been transported. “Exotics” such as lizards, birds, guinea pigs, a pot-bellied pig and a python (found in a clothing donation bin) have been transported. Montreal volunteers work with the pounds to identify which animals will be rescued, depending on their adoptability and health. The pounds charge a “pull fee” for each animal released and the rescuers raise these costs through donations and fund-raising events. Although the dogs may spend time with a foster family, the great majority soon find permanent homes.

“Freedom Drivers are absolutely indispensible in helping get the shelter dogs to the safety of the rescuers” says Wendy Dugdale, the head of Ottawa Dog Rescue, adding that the retrieving of dogs from the pounds is only possible because of Freedom Drivers. Otherwise, “many dogs would not make it out alive”. Freedom Drivers badly need plastic dog crates, cat carriers, strong leashes, slip leads, collars, pee pads and blankets.