Karen Talbot, of Hammonton, hit a home run with her 100-vehicle Georgia Puppy Caravan in 2009. Volunteers with her M.O.M.S Animal Rescue Group, and other organizations, descended on a single animal shelter in Summerville, Ga. They emptied it out, sending 150 puppies and dogs to rescue organizations all over the U.S.
Another 138 dogs were quarantined and given medical care. Over the next four to five months, all those dogs left Georgia for new homes. The caravan also delivered 22 tons of donated pet food.
It was such a success, Talbot said, she and the Philadelphia-area Whispering Woods Animal Rescue group are planning to do it again. They are planning the Take Me Home Memorial Day Caravan, from May 27 to May 30. About 100 people have signed on for the trip, and the group is still seeking volunteers to go and help build kennels and handle animals for transport to rescue organizations, Talbot said.
"This time we're going to a town that has no animal control. We're going to a rescuer's property and building kennels," she said. More volunteers are always welcome, Talbot added. The group will also take as many of the area's shelter animals as they have pre-arranged homes for, donate pet food and supplies, and deliver an $18,000 mobile medical unit from an anonymous donor to a volunteer rescue group in Hoboken, Ga., Talbot said.
The mobile unit will be used as quarantine space until it can be updated as a spay and neuter facility, she said.
Started by kids
The M.O.M.S. (Making of Miracle Stories) rescue group started out in 2008 as "Paws for a Cause," a small scale rescue and awareness program run by students at St. Joseph Elementary School in Hammonton and their parents. Moms and students wanted to continue the work they had started and formed the M.O.M.S. group, Talbot said.
The groups focus on Georgia because they want to have a big impact in a single state, she said. Many southern states, including Georgia, have an overwhelming number of stray animals because there is little support for spaying and neutering there. Consequently, thousands of the puppies born there every year are euthanized. she said.
"They are in such rural areas, and there's the attitude of 'You're not doing that to my dog,'" Talbot said. "You ask them, 'What are you going to do with the puppies?' and they say, "I don't know, but it's good for them to have babies.'"
Talbot said the group's goal is to increase awareness, and "we're not going to get awareness if we bash them." A documentary she co-produced about the first effort, "Take Me Home: The Story of the Georgia Puppy Caravan" was heartwarming rather than critical of the locals, she said.
While there are veterinarians and others in the rural south who try to help, they mostly focus on caring for people's pets.
"There are animals down there who are not lucky enough to be called a pet," Talbot said. "If (the locals) start to see people from out-of-state saying we love these animals, suddenly their trash becomes treasure."
She has already heard from many Georgians who have volunteered to help with the second caravan.
Lots of help
While Talbot heads the rescue effort, she takes pains to give credit to all who help out.
"It takes a village to do what we're doing," she said of all the people and businesses who help.
Patriot Self Storage in Hammonton has donated a storage unit for donated food and supplies. Philadelphia Trolley Works has donated a bus to transport volunteers for the second caravan, she said, and ASL Transport of Williamstown is providing a tractor trailer and driver for taking supplies such as pet food.
In addition to the two caravans, Talbot and her ex-husband, Dante LaSasso (soon to be her husband again), travel to Georgia monthly to bring back 20 to 25 puppies that have been cleared by a veterinarian for interstate travel. The puppies usually go into foster care and then are adopted in southern New Jersey.
APS Asphalt Paving donates a van every month, complete with EZ Pass, for those monthly trips, Talbot said. She calls the staff at Cedar Brook Animal Hospital in Winslow Township "my backbone - they are there waiting when we bring the dogs off the transport," she said.
Artist and horse rescuer Ellen Strack, of the Weekstown section of Mullica Township, who runs South Jersey All Breeds Horse Rescue and who has adopted two puppies, has volunteered to paint a mural on the side of the mobile medical unit. She'll paint portraits of dogs adopted through M.O.M.S., along with a road from New Jersey to Georgia, Talbot said.
"It will be a rolling testimonial to our work," Talbot said.
Strack adopted Oona, a part St. Bernard, and Fin, who looks like a Newfoundland, after her Jack Russell terrier died. She had heard about M.O.M.S. Rescue through David Von Roehm, a filmmaker and teacher at Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point, where her son attended. Von Roehm made a documentary about the first caravan, called "Take Me Home."
But it was photos on a Facebook page that got Strack to take action.
"Karen is a member of my horse rescue Facebook group, and she had a picture of one of her puppies up. It said, 'Click on this to see them all,' so I did and they were all so cute," Strack said. She picked the two puppies who'd become the biggest dogs she could get, she said.
They came almost two months ago, at about 2months old, and were about 90 percent housebroken from their time in quarantine and volunteer foster care in Georgia, she said. That care is also arranged by M.O.M.S.
Judy Richardson, of Winslow Township, works with Talbot at Atlantic Investigations in Hammonton. She adopted a mixed breed puppy from M.O.M.S. about four months ago, when he was 8 weeks old. She and husband Dennis Helmer, and their son, Dennis, will be going on the Memorial Day Caravan, she said.
"We're excited. We hear about it all the time, but this is the first time we'll experience it," RIchardson said.
The personal cost
Talbot's dedication to dog rescue was a problem for her marriage, and led to her divorce, she said.
"My husband said, 'It's me or the dogs,'" she said. She wasn't willing to give up the rescue, and they split, but now he's devoted himself to the cause, she said. They plan to remarry this summer in Halifax, N.C. That's where they spent an entire night at a road stop, trying to find an escaped puppy, with the help of the sheriff's department and local residents.
"I was praying that if he comes out (of the woods) with the puppy, we'll remarry," Talbot said. He did.
The newspapers got wind of their story, and townspeople invited them back to remarry there, Talbot said.
Meanwhile, Talbot hears frequently about dogs brought into southern New Jersey by Paws for a Cause and The M.O.M.S. Rescue.
"One gentleman said, in the dog park where he goes in Gloucester County, about 30 percent of the dogs there came from the Paws program or the M.O.M.S. Rescue," Talbot said.
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If you want to help
The Take Me Home Memorial Day Caravan Donation Drive is seeking donations of dog and cat food, pet items, fans, generators, rolled chain link fencing, kennels and kitty litter. To volunteer or donate, contact Karen Talbot at 609-665-1224 or
Visit www.themomsrescue.com for more information.