PHOENIX — So you're in the market for a new dog and you find the perfect pup inside the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control shelter. Well, you'd better hurry -- it's a race against time before that dog could be off the adoptable list.
ABC15 is learning that the public has only 30 minutes before a county-approved rescue or even a shelter that is out of state, gets their hands on your favored pup. Maricopa County is now working with more rescues and shelters out of state than ever before.
County staff tell ABC15 more than 1,000 dogs have been transported from the county shelter to shelters across America since January.
The county gave ABC15 permission to film one of the dog transports. We were told to show up at the shelter at 4 a.m., the time when dozens of volunteers gather at the shelter to help prep the dogs who are being transported.
On this day, 36 dogs were being relocated to a Humane Society shelter in Murray, Utah.
The county has partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for these transports. The van was driven by two ASPCA volunteers, both retirees from California who are now dedicating their lives to helping animals in need.
Judy Bruner, with ASPCA, told ABC15 the trip could take up to 12 hours with food stops, but they checked on every dog during the stops, cleaned the crates if they were dirty, fed the puppies, and provided water to all of the animals at every stop.
Among the 36 dogs being transported to Utah were three German Shepherd-mixed puppies who had been found abandoned at the shelter on Easter Sunday.
Denise Novak, the MCACC volunteer who had fostered them, was there to see the dogs off. She had named the puppies Ben, Jerry, and Rocky.
A miniature stray poodle found with severely matted hair was also one of the passengers.
Several Valley rescues ABC15 spoke to said they would have been thrilled to take these dogs in, and questioned why the county was transporting them to shelters outside the state.
"I think the public should have first dibs on the healthy ones," said animal advocate Dusty Lee.
ABC15 asked county shelter staff about the reason behind the transfers, and spokesman Jose Santiago said it was all about creating space.
In a high-stakes game of getting animals in and out the door quickly from a shelter that was bursting at the seams, county staff said the public gets 30 minutes from the time the animal is available for adoption. So while you do have first dibs, we asked the county, why only 30 minutes? It did not seem like a very long time.
"It doesn't sound very long, but you know if it's a dog that is a highly-desirable breed, 30 minutes is more than enough time. At that 30 minutes we already have five to six people in line," said Santiago.
Since Maricopa County was sending so many dogs out of state, ABC15 has learned many local rescues are turning to other counties, the reservation, and out-of state shelters as well, to fill up their kennels.
Some rescues said they took in owner-surrendered pets. The Pinal County animal shelter was also a big source of "rescues." HALO president Heather Allen told ABC15 they too have partners outside of Arizona.
"We also work with shelters across the state, within Mexico, California, and we've got a couple partners in Texas," said Allen.
Melissa Gable with Foothills Animal Rescue in Scottsdale said they would love to take in Maricopa County shelter animals.
"I kind of feel bad they're having to ship animals out of state, when there are so many adopters and local rescues that want to help them," said Gable.
With almost 80 to 100 dogs coming into the shelter every single day in the summer months, Santiago said their priority was to get dogs out, as fast as they could come in. It was all about numbers, and what would clear out the most kennels in one shot.
"When we are in a shortage of kennel space and we have a group in other areas that says, 'We can take up to 150 dogs,' that is 150 spaces that they are creating right then and there, for that homeless dog that is still on the street."
On the day our cameras were rolling, ABC15 observed mostly smaller to medium-sized dogs being loaded into the crates for transportation. Shelter staff said that was because the Humane Society in Utah had specifically requested smaller dogs.
Santiago said they often shipped out larger dogs, including pit bulls and pit-mixes as well, depending on what the rescues were asking for. Sometimes they would put in three small dogs with a larger dog, just to fill up space in a van or a flight.
Kristen Brookes, who helped coordinate all of the transfers at the shelter, said this particular transport had opened up 20 new kennels at MCACC, as some of the dogs are doubled up in kennels.
"The Humane Society of Utah is lucky to have available space in their shelter," said Brooks.
ABC15 spoke to DeAnn Shephard, a spokeswoman at the Humane Society shelter in Murray, Utah, and she said they have a desperate need for smaller dogs there. They did not want to turn away people who asked for smaller dogs, because they feared those people may turn to breeders or pet stores to get a dog, so they decided to partner up with overcrowded shelters all over the country to bring in animals.
Santiago said the county is not making any money by doing the transfers. The flights and road trips are typically sponsored by animal advocacy groups and organizations. All animals who fly to shelters are not placed in a cargo area. They are in the main cabin.
Santiago said to date, no animals have been injured during any of the transports.
The Humane Society in Utah has had the Phoenix dogs for a little over a week now.
ABC15 followed up with them this week, and learned that animals stay with them for four days on average, before they're adopted out.
As for Ben, Jerry, and Rocky, Utah shelter officials tell us they found their forever homes within the first few hours they were put for adoption. They have now been re-named Schultzy, Fisky, and Boomtown.