EUGENE — Jasper, a large snow-white American Husky, jumped into the arms of animal rescuer Shafali Grewal, who said she wished she could keep him. They stood beside the Rescue Express bus, which was parked outside Almost Home Pet Boarding in San Fernando, California. Grewal petted Jasper while trying to disentangle herself from the leashes that two other dogs had wrapped around her legs.

The dogs’ lives were going to change.

Jasper, along with 24 other dogs at the San Fernando stop, were about to take a ride aboard the Rescue Express bus to the Pacific Northwest, where they would have better odds of adoption — and a longer life.

For almost three years, Rescue Express, a Eugene-based organization headquartered on a farm, has functioned as an escape vehicle for cats and dogs that had been living in overcrowded California shelters, where they were under threat of being euthanized for lack of space to keep them.

Rescue Express crews help get such animals adopted into what pet rescuers refer to as “forever homes.”

Since its start in February 2015, Rescue Express has expanded from one to three buses, and it transports more than 125 animals each trip, every weekend, in partnership with more than 200 pet groups between California and Washington.

As of late July, Rescue Express had transported more than 10,600 animals.

It’s not an easy trip. It’s a crowded, sometimes noisy ride to safer locations and a better future.

After the Rescue Express crew loaded up 24 carriers, the bus headed north, toward its next stop in Bakersfield, California.

A single dog began barking from the back and, as the bus rattled down the freeway, the other dogs grew silent.

Why do unwanted pets in California stand a better chance at adoption simply by being transported to the Pacific Northwest?

Chrissy Mattucci, the executive director of Rescue Express, said there is a different culture between the two regions.

“There’s definitely a different mindset in animal ownership,” Mattucci said.

For example, there’s more community support in the Pacific Northwest for animal shelters that provide education about the importance of spaying and neutering dogs and cats to prevent overpopulation, she said. As a result, shelters in the region more often have more space to accept homeless animals, she said.

According to Amber Minium, a volunteer at Lucky Paws in Eugene, the number of animals they took in tripled when Rescue Express began operation. The rescue now takes in between 10 and 20 animals a week.

The credit for Rescue Express goes to Mike McCarthy, a retired software engineer who founded the organization when he was living in Eugene. He has since moved to California, but he remains active, coordinating efforts from that side of the rescue route.

Each weekend’s transport costs between $3,500 and $3,800. The average transport cost for each animal falls somewhere between $25 and $35.

The group’s primary funding comes from grants and the Michael G. McCarthy — or MGM — foundation, which took in $98,609 in contributions and grants, according to the latest available tax records. This has enabled advocates to keep the service free of charge to their rescue partners. Other transports can charge anywhere from $50 to $150 per animal, according to Mattucci.

“We’ve built a network; we’re sustainable; we’ve got the demand; we can keep going,” Mattucci said. “But we definitely still have a lot of need for support from a donation standpoint.”

After working in animal causes for many years, McCarthy said during a recent phone conversation that he noticed the pet overpopulation in California and comparative shortage of animals for adoption in the Pacific Northwest.

McCarthy also noted that sometimes pet transport volunteers lacked the proper equipment and resources to transport animals in safety and relative comfort.

His solution was to buy a former school bus, paint it bright red, and add photos of animals to its exterior. Inside, several air-conditioning units keep animals cool for the trip through the triple-digit summer heat in California’s central valleys. The back of the bus is lined with 93 animal carriers.

The weekly crew of two employees — a driver and a transport supervisor — make the trip every weekend from Eugene to San Fernando, California, before heading back up to Burlington, Washington, which usually is the last stop before the return to their Eugene headquarters.

Their largest trip to date involved transporting 225 animals on a special charter.

Transport supervisor Heather Engstrom said the trip isn’t entirely comfortable for the animals. The bus is bumpy; they are packed in close to other animals, and the carriers provide tight quarters.

In fact, while most of the dogs and cats on the bus settle in to take a nap, the voice of the single barking dog gradually became a strangled whine. But she points out that a few hours of discomfort is far preferable to the alternative of a lengthy shelter stay or possible death.

And the Rescue Express crew does everything possible to care for the animals.

They constantly keep an eye on the temperature in the bus to ensure that the dogs and cats don’t become overheated. And they supply food, water and treats during the drive.

After the transport’s first stop in San Fernando, the crew will drive approximately 18 hours to Burlington. Places they will stop to load or unload animals include a well-kept (if overcrowded) humane society in Bakersfield, a sidewalk covered by the shade of trees in Fresno, and a “dusty truck stop parking lot” in Tulare.

Each weekend’s transport costs between $3,500 and $3,800. The average transport cost for each animal falls somewhere between $25 and $35.

The group’s primary funding comes from grants and the Michael G. McCarthy — or MGM — foundation, which took in $98,609 in contributions and grants, according to the latest available tax records. This has enabled advocates to keep the service free of charge to their rescue partners. Other transports can charge anywhere from $50 to $150 per animal, according to Mattucci.

“We’ve built a network; we’re sustainable; we’ve got the demand; we can keep going,” Mattucci said. “But we definitely still have a lot of need for support from a donation standpoint.”

The Rescue Express model hasn’t gone unnoticed by other organizations. Recently one of its buses made a trip to Texas, where San Antonio Pets Alive is using the vehicle to save animals that have been left stranded due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Through Rescue Express’ Facebook and website, organizers are currently running a fundraiser to help animals that have been affected by the flooding.

That bus will not be coming back; it has been donated, and San Antonio Pets Alive will be replicating the Rescue Express model.

Meanwhile, according to McCarthy, Rescue Express is in the midst of designing three more buses and creating a new route to transport animals from Southern California.

On this particular trek, several people are waiting as the bus pulls into Fresno. One of the rescue partners from 4 Dogs Rescue holds a large bag containing cookies, crackers, bottled water — a gift for the crew. As one of the dogs is set down in some nearby grass, it begins to jump up and down. Soon it’s happily rolling, pausing on its back in a shameless bid for belly rubs.

“There’s a lot of crappy stuff in the world nowadays,” Engstrom said. “My heart is pulled toward stuff like this ... this is my way to help end some of the sadness.”

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