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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Local nonprofit planning Castle Hayne facility to aid transport of rescue dogs to northern states

A dog rescued and transported by SAVEDOG. (Courtesy SAVEDOG)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A local dog rescue operation is looking to open its first facility and hoping to gain a conditional rezoning from the county commissioners for its site plan.

The SAVEDOG Project, a small rescue relocation nonprofit based out of Wilmington, wants to build a garage and temporary shelter at 4503 N. College Road. A community meeting is scheduled for May 25 for nearby property owners to learn more about the proposal. 

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John Thomas, founder of the project and owner of wellness company Diet Direct, has been running the rescue operation virtually for over five years. Thomas, his daughter, and a team of five others travel to several locations across the South and pick up dogs in need of homes. After retrieval from foster care agencies and shelters, they then transport the dogs from the southern states to northern shelters. 

The method solves one of America’s supply and demand problems: There are more dogs than adopters in the South, while the inverse is true for the North. To help solve it, sophisticated dog relocation networks like SAVEDOG have sprung up over the past decade to combat the high euthanization rates of those states with too many dogs. 

The amount of dog and cat euthanasia has decreased exponentially in recent decades. According to Time magazine, as many as 20 million dogs and cats were euthanized each year in the 1970s. In 2019, the ASPCA estimated 390,000 dogs and 530,000 cats are euthanized each year, down from 2.6 million in 2011. Though, regional disparities still remain. 

North Carolina has ranked in the top three for euthanizations for the last several years; over 14,000 dogs and cats were killed in 2022. Rural counties are where they suffer most due to a potential lack of shelters, staff, and available homes.

“Although the country is really moving in a great direction as a result of fantastic efforts by many large and small rescues, there are still pockets that are still lagging behind as a result of lack of resources, lack of spay neuter, and there’s no way you at a local level, you can adopt your way out of it,” Thomas said. 

The pipelines from these overpopulated shelters to those in need range from American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ program, which passed 200,000 animals transported last year, to bands of vigilante volunteers that sacrifice their own resources to make the trips. Sometimes those volunteers form nonprofits like SAVEDOG, which has relocated almost 5,000 dogs so far. 

With a bright yellow climate-controlled van, SAVEDOG transports between 20 and 30 dogs around three to four times a month. Drivers make hours-long trips to fetch the pooches from South Carolina, Alabama, Texas and other states, then turn around to make the trek back. The nonprofit recently purchased a second, larger van which will allow drivers to transport two or three times as many dogs. 

It also has been operating solely on donations and Thomas’ contributions. Thomas recently launchedcanine supplements and treats, with 100% of its proceeds funding SAVEDOG.

Thomas said the purchase of the Castle Hayne facility will allow for proper indoor storage for SAVEDOG’s vehicles and allow for temporary shelter between transport trips. The shelter will be able to hold up to 50 dogs awaiting the final leg of their journey. 

Thomas said the county is not SAVEDOG’s target area for relocation — the euthanization rate in New Hanover County is low. The N. College Road facility is the prime midway point on the transport route. 

“We’re just kind of a brick in the wall,” Thomas said. “We work with tremendous partners, both on the sending and the receiving end. We just kind of bridge the gap.”

The community meeting for SAVEDOG’s proposed facility will be held May 25 at 6 p.m., at shelter 2 of Northern Regional Park, 4700 Old Avenue, Castle Hayne.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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