Big rigs, big hearts

Hometown Heroes, People
on November 9, 2008
Jason Janik Volunteers Kathy Young, Wiese, Tony Hamilton, and Bobby and Lois Ewing are helping animals in need.

It was love at first sight
when truck driver Sue Wiese of Joshua, Texas (pop. 4,528), first laid eyes on Roger, a 2-year-old black and white toy Manchester terrier.

With his soulful brown eyes and perky ears, Roger stared pleadingly at Wiese from his cage in the animal shelter, persuading her to take him home. A lifelong animal lover, Wiese adopted Roger in 2003 and the little dog quickly became her best friend and constant traveling companion.

An owner and driver for Crete Carrier Corp. for five and a half years, Wiese traveled highways throughout the country with Roger perched on the passenger seat of her truck, diligently wearing his canine seat belt. In 2005, however, the beloved dog unexpectedly died, leaving a void in Wieses life. In the weeks that followed, she heard news reports about families separated from their pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and felt a pang of sadness. She knew how devastating it was to lose a dear pet and she wondered how she could help reunite families with their missing animals.

When a pet is with you all day long like Roger was, it becomes a member of your family, Wiese, 65, says. Its truly devastating for people to be in a situation that forces them to leave a member of their family behind.

Wiese heard about, a website where people can search for lost and adoptable pets. She was stunned to see the vast number of homeless pets awaiting adoption, many of whom were at shelters scheduled for euthanasia. On the website, Wiese discovered there was a crucial need for individuals who could rescue pets and transport them to both foster and permanent homes, a need that only intensified in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Most of the rescues were being done by individuals who would drive for a short distance and then pass the animal along to another individual, she says. I thought it would be more efficient if I could get long-distance truckers on board to transport the animals across the country as part of their normal trucking routes.

Calling all truckers
In late summer of 2005, Wiese appeared on a radio show for truckers on XM Satellite Radio and made a plea to any drivers wanting to help her save and transport dogs and cats. She received
15 enthusiastic phone calls after the show, and her rescue organization, Operation Roger, was born.

Tony Hamilton, 47, was one of the truckers responding to Wieses call for volunteers. An Alabama-based trucker who travels the East Coast accompanied by his two long-haired Chihuahuas, Maria, 7, and Tip, 3, Hamilton signed on to do transports.

Ive helped with over 20 transports to date, Hamilton says. Its very rewarding to watch a dog scheduled to be euthanized travel to a new home and be welcomed by a loving family.

In the last three years, Wiese has recruited dozens of trucker volunteers, and together they have rescued nearly 300 dogs and cats, plus a few ferrets. Her daughters, Chantelle, 38, and Tasha, 34, also help with rescue efforts by conducting background checks on drivers, sending out applications and answering phone calls.

Since a leg injury in April interrupted her trucking career, Wiese has devoted her efforts to maintaining the nonprofit organizations website, She also stays busy recruiting new drivers at events like the Truckers Jamboree in Walcott, Iowa (pop. 1,528) , and lining up short-term foster homes where pets can stay anywhere from a few hours to a few days, until their next ride comes along. In August, Wiese volunteered to provide a layover home for Hazel, a Jack Russell terrier en route to San Fernando, Calif.

Transports are scheduled through designated truckers who serve as team leaders and supervise other truckers who call in for weekly telephone conference calls. When a pet rescue organization needs a pet transported, a volunteer from that organization meets the trucker at a designated truck stop. All animals are required to have a current health certificate and be up-to-date on vaccinations.
We screen and conduct background checks on all drivers, Wiese says. We also require that they take part in an Operation Roger University course on pet safety and transportation that Tony Hamilton offers as a teleconference.

To the rescue
The free service that Operation Roger provides has been helpful to animal rescue organizations around the country, such as SOS Beagles, of Dayton, Tenn. (pop. 6,180), which finds new homes for abused, neglected or abandoned animals.

Before Operation Roger, I would wait until we rescued eight or 10 beagles from the shelters and then drive them in my van to New Jersey, where our organization has a number of foster homes, says Linda Forrest, founder of SOS Beagles. The drive took me 14 hours each way nonstop, and when my husband became ill last year I was unable to make the trip. Operation Roger provides animal rescue groups such as ours with a valuable service.

Wiese says the transport experience benefits the truckers as well as the pets. Having a dog beside them gives drivers company along their routes and also forces them to take regular breaks, Wiese says. Weve had a couple drivers who have decided to adopt pets of their own after helping us with a transport.

Many of the drivers view their participation in Operation Roger as a way to give back to their communities. Being on the road like they are, they cant volunteer for anything at home. So transporting the animals is a way that they feel like they can help, Wiese says.

Not only are they making friends with people they wouldnt have known any other way, she adds, but they have a common heart for the animal, and a desire to see them get better treatment, better homes.

Wiese feels that Operation Roger is a win-win situation for everyone involved. To me its a ministry for Gods four-legged critters, and any two-legged ones who want it.