STARKVILLE, Miss.--What began in 2007 as a small student effort at Mississippi State's College of Veterinary Medicine now is a highly organized program that has saved more than 3,200 dogs in Mississippi.
Now, thanks to the kindness of donors and a $26,000 grant from the ASPCA®, the university program is reaching a new level of success.
The Homeward Bound Project of Mississippi began when MSU veterinary students Megan Caulfield, Krista Gazzola, and Amy White noticed an imbalance between the large supply of adoptable dogs in the South and a continuing high demand in the Northeast. They went on to create the first successful transport program developed, maintained and operated by veterinary students.
Their mission takes adoptable puppies and young adult dogs from overcrowded southern shelters and transports them to adoption-guaranteed shelters in high-population metropolitan areas where the demand for adoptable dogs is greatest.
MSU-CVM veterinary technician Terri Snead supervises the students and volunteers whose donations of their nights and weekends have made the program a success for the past five years.
All pets taken north by Homeward Bound have been spayed or neutered, received age-appropriate vaccinations and been screened for diseases. They also have spent a week or more in Mississippi in foster care.
Every six weeks, the students load the dogs into a trailer and head to Virginia, where they meet representatives from partner shelters from New York and New Hampshire. From there, the four-footed travelers are transported to shelters from which they are adopted by families.
Late last year, the MSU-CVM Class of 2016 began raising money for a new transport vehicle. While the trailer they had been using was air conditioned, its power generator lacked the capacity to keep 40-50 dogs sufficiently cool during the summer months.
To help deal with the transport limitation, the students set a goal to purchase a new, fully air-conditioned vehicle. Working with the veterinary college's development office, they raised $85,000 to purchase a vehicle specifically designed for pet transport.
"The ASPCA is a strong supporter of relocation programs, and believes that transport of animals from locations where there is no demand to areas where these animals are highly sought-after is an important piece to solving the overpopulation puzzle," said Kristen Limbert, ASPCA's animal relocation director.
She said 147-year-old New York-based organization is "happy to support the dedicated students of The Homeward Bound Project in their efforts to save the lives of animals that simply began their journey in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The CVM students' success in gaining national media attention for their fund-raising drive included an article in Ladies Home Journal and a Christmas Eve television report on Fox National News. They also reached out to friends and supporters of Mississippi's only academic program in veterinary medicine.
Dr. P. Mikell Davis, a retired CVM faculty member and administrator, and wife, Mary Cheek, were among those responding.
"The program is impressive and we, my wife especially, have a soft spot for puppies and kittens," said Davis, whose professional career at MSU spanned nearly 30 years. "We feel we are just doing our part to help get these animals to good homes, and are thankful to the students who make Homeward Bound a success."
Dean Kent Hoblet, the veterinary college's top administrator, spoke for all involved when he expressed appreciation to the "many that have provided for the animals this program seeks to help.
Hoblet gave special recognition to Snead and the student volunteers who "have done what seems almost impossible in raising these funds while continuing to get animals into homes.
"Also most impressive to me is the foster families who volunteer to temporarily house pets and get them ready for adoption," Hoblet added. "We truly are thankful for the support Homeward Bound has received from the kind people here in Mississippi and around the country."
To learn more about Homeward Bound of Mississippi, visit www.homewardboundofms.org. Donations may be made by contacting the CVM Development Office at 662-325-3815.