CHECOTAH, Okla. -- Hundreds of dogs sit in animal shelters, sometimes for years, waiting for someone to adopt them.
Without much success finding them homes in Green Country, one small rescue in McIntosh County is going to great lengths to find deserving dogs their forever homes.
Kate Paris, the director at the Checotah Animal Shelter, became fed up about four years ago with a persistent problem in the area. She said there are simply too many stray animals and not enough homes to take them.
"It's a terrible thing," Paris said. "There are stray dogs everywhere."
She, however, found a solution: other rescue groups would send vans to Checotah to pick up dozens of dogs at a time and ferry them to other states where shelters are not as full and strays not as prevalent.
"When (the dogs) go, it breaks my heart, and they look at like me like why?" Paris said. "They think they belong to me because I do love them. I love them all."
This year, she decided to start her own animal transport program, so she created a nonprofit called Fix-Em Incorporated. She and other volunteers received a grant from Petco and bought their own van so that they could take animals more frequently out of Oklahoma to places where shelter dogs are more in demand.
"Last year in one year," Paris said, "we transported out 1,865 (dogs), and we're going to do more than that this year."
During a trip in early July, volunteers loaded up more than a hundred dogs, some coming from other shelters nearby, and sent them to Illinois. Two volunteers in two vans left Checotah to make the 11-hour trip to drop off dogs at three different shelters there.
The first shipment of dogs went to the Tails Humane Society in DeKalb, Illinois, while the rest were split between Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin, Illinois, and PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter in the Windy City.
Beth Drake, who serves as executive director at Anderson Animal Shelter, said her rescue took in more than a thousand dogs last year from Oklahoma. She said she hopes this arrangement will not end anytime soon.
"We really pull out all the stops," Drake said. "We take as many animals as we can, as frequently as we can, and we get them adopted. There's no question that they're going to get adopted up here."
Drake said it normally takes about three days to find puppies homes and only five for adult dogs. She said Illinois does not have an overpopulation problem like Oklahoma has because of her state's stricter spay and neuter laws.
Oklahoma has no statewide law regarding spaying and neutering, which is why Paris said her group is going to such great lengths to get dogs adopted.
"That would be a big bonus if we could spay and neuter all dogs," Paris said. "That's what I'm living for is to spay and neuter every dog in Oklahoma.
Until that happens, though, Paris and the other volunteers plan to keep taking these trips two to three times a month because, to them, every dog deserves a home no matter how far they have to go to find one.
"We don't kill dogs for space problems because that's just not me," Paris said. "I just don't do that. I mean I can't, so I find a place to put them."
In addition to Illinois, Fix-Em Incorporated has taken dogs to rescues as far away as Minnesota and Colorado to help them get adopted.
For more information about Fix-Em, Inc., visit the group's Facebook page here.