By Jesse Wood
Oct. 1, 2014. About twice a month, the High Country-based PARTNERS! Canines rounds up about 70 homeless dogs in the region and has them transported to New York to be placed into homes. The next transport takes place on Oct. 8.
The main mission of PARTNERS! Canines is to save puppies and highly-adoptable dogs in the rural Southeast that may be euthanized because of costly medical care or lack of space in local shelters. They are then transport to Northern states where overpopulation isn’t a rampant problem.
PARTNERS! Canines became a nonprofit in 2007, but its story began years earlier.
Melissa Bahleda, founder of the pet-rescue organization, received her certificate for Canine Training and Behavior Counseling from the Animal Behavior Center of New York in 2001. Following certification, she started a training business and taught classes at animal shelters Virginia.
In 2005, Bahleda began working with North Shore Animal League, which is the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, after meeting the league at disaster tents during Hurricane Katrina. NSAL sent its mobile units down to Louisiana to help with homeless pets displaced by the storm, and Bahleda was there to help round up dogs and assist with trying to reunite them with their owners.
Bahleda, who is experienced handling fearful and/or aggressive dogs, learned more about NSAL’s goals and transport program and began organizing rescues with the league when she returned to Virginia. From 2007 to 2012, PARTNERS! Canines rescued more than 1,000 dogs per year while collaborating with NSAL.
In 2013, PARTNERS! Canines rescued more than 2,000 dogs and is on pace to rescue more than 2,500 dogs in the High County and surrounding areas in 2014, according to Jessica Bryant, who recently took over the reigns of PARTNERS! Canines.
With help of a donation from a family friend, PARTNERS! Canines recently started a free spay program in Wilkes County for female cats and dogs. Bryant has also started working with marketing students at Appalachian State University to work with the nonprofit’s business plan.
Bryant began working with PARTNERS! Canines with Bahleda in 2012, after starting a pet adoption magazine in the Boone area called “Critter Magazine” that focused on pet rescue and adoption in the High Country. By then, Bahleda and her husband, Tom, had moved to the Boone.
Bryant and Bahleda joined forces to go meet with shelter directors, and county managers in the area to see how their organization could help them with the large numbers of animals coming in everyday, and set them up to partner with NSAL’s transport program. NSAL offered to send its large multi-million dollar transport units down to N.C. to pick up 60-70 animals at a time (if PARTNERS! Canines organized it), and transport them back up to their shelter in New York. Shelters eagerly agreed to participate in the program.
“Our main goal is we want to help great shelter dogs. Great in our book is adoptable and would do well in any family. We help a lot of puppies and a lot of adult dogs that fit that criteria, would be a great pet and that don’t display behavior problems,” Bryant said, adding that PARTNERS! Canines also wants to turn the state of North Carolina into a no-kill state as this area is one of the highest euthanasia rates in the country.
While PARTNERS! Canines’ primary partner currently is NSAL, it also works with other groups like Avery Humane Society, PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’ and Delaware County SPCA in Pennsylvania and does local adoptions/rescue whenever it can.
Lorie Bush of Banner Elk, a self-described lover of pets – “animals are just souls wearing fur,” she said – recently volunteered on a transport day in September. Bush said that she just found out about PARTNERS! Canines when she reconnected with Bahleda, who used to petsit for the Bushes in the ‘90s.
“I think it’s wonderful that they are saving lives,” Bush said. “Their work is so valuable, and it’s just phenomenal the lives they are saving.”
For more information, click to www.partnerscanines.org.