By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

For dogs, a new S.T.A.R.T.

If you, like I, have found the news dispiriting lately this is the column for you. I am going to report on an upbeat, heart-warming, innovative program underway right down the highway from most of us. Read on.

First, even the background for this story is good news, and we should be proud of it. Apparently those of us who love and live with dogs in the Willamette Valley have been paying attention to all the messages in the media about being responsible pet owners, in particular the part about getting Poochie neutered or spayed. We have very few homeless dogs in this area — Portland, Salem, and especially Yamhill County. If you should visit the kennels of many of our local shelters, you may find a number of the kennel runs are empty. Fewer dogs are needing homes.

Some of this can be attributed to websites like Petfinder that broaden a dog’s chances of being adopted, but we also have to give ourselves credit for making sure our canine companions are not producing unwanted puppies.

So the good news is we have a great handle on our dog population. The bad news is that there is a dearth of dogs if you should want to adopt one to be your lifelong companion. And the other bad news is that the facilities we have to help rescue dogs are being underutilized.

Enter a very innovative program called S.T.A.R.T. and our very own shelter on Loop Road, Homeward Bound Pets. S.T.A.R.T. stands for Shelter Transfer Animal Rescue Team, and the name pretty much tells all. The happy situation of having almost no homeless dogs does not extend to Southern California, where the open door shelters of Los Angeles and the surrounding counties are stuffed full of dogs, many of which will be euthanized if they are not adopted within a certain timeline, to make room for still more homeless dogs.

S.T.A.R.T. is an all-volunteer group whose goal is to get dogs out of crowded ‘kill’ shelters to not-so-crowded no-kill shelters along the I-5 corridor. As of February, Homeward Bound Pets is one of those shelters.

I was able to speak to Dawn Witt, the Executive Director of Homeward Bound Pets, about the program and the shelter’s involvement. On March 21, Dawn and a few other volunteers with the Homeward Bound Pets Dog Team drove to Salem to rendezvous with the S.T.A.R.T. truck at Willamette Humane Society, which was also accepting some S.T.A.R.T. dogs. Dawn and her cohorts unloaded seven bleary eyed, understandably confused pooches and drove them to our shelter in Mac. She notified S.T.A.R.T. that Homeward Bound Pets had room for seven dogs, and since most of the inquiries the shelter get are from folks who want smaller dogs, all the dogs were 30 pounds and under, a couple of them drastically under.

S.T.A.R.T. doesn’t do business with just anybody. The dogs they are transporting have already had tough lives, and S.T.A.R.T. wants to make sure they are going to shelters that will change that. Dawn filled out a 19-page application, which included pictures of the shelter, the names and pictures of people in our community willing to foster these dogs in their homes, and a long list of references, both personal and business for the shelter itself. Happily, we had all the proof necessary to show S.T.A.R.T. that we would be good for these dogs.

S.T.A.R.T. is the kind of stuff that would make either a great movie or a better-than-average reality show. These folks may be the cowboys of the canine rescue world. To begin, 70-some dogs are loaded into crates stacked and carefully secured in a truck about the size of a U-Haul, and the adventure starts. To minimize the stress on the dogs, the drive from Riverside, Calif., to the Canadian border on I-5, is pretty much non-stop. Volunteers take turns driving and sleeping in the truck. They stop to fuel up and to drop dogs off at pre-arranged shelters, but other than that there is no rest until the last dog is safe. These folks don’t just love dogs. They save their lives.

The work of the Homeward Bound Pets Dog Team deserves a column all to itself, but I want to let you know that getting to our shelter is just the beginning of the new lives these dogs can look forward to. The day after the arrival the members of the team did an extensive assessment on each dog to learn what their strengths are, and what not-so-good behaviors the dog might have that need to be worked on.

Daily training and socialization encourage the strengths, and some pretty sophisticated positive counter conditioning training helps eliminate problems like shyness or separation anxiety before the pooch goes to its forever home. In addition, the team teaches each dog the basic commands, like sit, stay, and walking on a loose leash. Whoever adopts one of these dogs, or one of the others that will be arriving on future S.T.A.R.T. transports, is going to get a wonderful companion whose life changed for good when it got off that truck.

The new temporary residents at Homeward Bound Pets include the following furry fellows:

Daisy, a Chihuahua mix, weighing in at a whopping 3 pounds. Staff is working very hard to put a few more ounces on her. We think she is about three years old.

Ella, a scruffy and I have to say, adorable, terrier mix who might be about 2.

Lily, another terrier mix who is about 1 1/2. Chachi, a 2 year old real character with a very playful personality. He might be 2 as well. Tesia, a cute little female who is probably about one. Winchester, a darling male miniature poodle who would have been adopted by yours truly if I didn’t already have a houseful of paws to take care of. He is close to 4-years-old.

Bruce Wayne (don’t you love that name?), another Chihuahua mix who is probably about three.

In addition to these little guys there are two larger dogs that came on an earlier S.T.A.R.T. truck. They are Skeeter, a 2-year-old male Lab/retriever mix, and Keiko, who is probably part shepherd and part chow, and is also two years old. If you like to exercise outdoors, either Skeeter or Keiko might be the dog for you. You will notice that details on the background of all the dogs are absent. S.T.A.R.T. is a ‘come as you are’ program. The backgrounds of all these dogs are mysteries. They just have a future, not a past.

Also, the above list includes some very appealing dogs, so many may have already been adopted by the time the paper prints this column, but don’t be discouraged. There’s another truckload of S.T.A.R.T. dogs on its way soon.

I should mention just so there’s no misunderstandings that, should you feel a sudden impulse to adopt one of these dogs, by all means head out to Homeward Bound. But don’t expect to be on your way back home with a dog in your back seat 20 minutes later. The staff is going to want to know that you will provide a safe and happy home for this pooch for the rest of his/her life. Since they have learned so much about these dogs as well, they are also going to make sure you know exactly what kind of a dog you are bringing home, so you get the dog you want.

One more misunderstanding that the shelter staff hears frequently. Homeward Bound Pets can’t take in any strays or abandoned dogs. If you find one of these, you need to call dog control. Homeward Bound Pets is open to dogs who are surrendered by their owners, or dogs from other shelters.

The adoption fees for dogs as well as cats are posted on the Homeward Bound Pets website. They are extremely reasonable, especially when you consider that your new pooch is already spayed or neutered, current on vaccinations, treated for parasites such as fleas, heartworms, and worms, and even microchipped. As a person who pays to get all that done after I get my pups, I can tell you that these guys are a real bargain. Discounts are also given to veterans and to seniors who wish to adopt.

I hope you take a trip out to Homeward Bound Pets sometime soon to meet these dogs. Even if, like me, you have no intention of bringing one home, you’re still going to find many reasons to smile while you are there, and we could all use that these days.

Nancy Carlson can be reached at



Fantastic article. My own "baby" is back home in Hawaii living with my ex-; however, I think visiting a place like Homeward Bound Pets will give me an opportunity to check out these lucky dogs as many states do not have S.T.A.R.T. programs or a place like Homeward Bound Pets. Thanks for the write-up!!

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS