Every other week, Greg Mahle packs up his specially outfitted big rig and heads thousands of miles south from his home in Ohio.
Up to 90 dogs, saved from high-kill shelters and the streets, await Mahle to take them on the final leg of their long journey – to their forever families in the Northeast.
In the 18 years since he started Rescue Road Trips, Mahle has saved an estimated 30,000 dogs.
Like many people who work rescue, holidays, such as Memorial Day, is just another day of rescue.
How and why does he do it?
In the following exclusive interview, journalist Peter Zheutlin gave iHeartDogs.com the details of this man’s amazing life. Zheutlin has written a book about Mahle’s amazing mission, called RESCUE ROAD: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway.
Why did Mahle start doing this?
Zheutlin: Over ten years ago, Greg had just seen the last of five family restaurants he ran with his mother close and one night his sister, Cathy Mahle, founder of Labs4rescue, called him for help. A woman transporting dogs from the south for the organization was near Greg’s home in Ohio but was battling a snow storm. Greg went out to help and ended up driving the woman and the dogs all the way to Connecticut. He began to think he could professionalize and organize what was then a very ad hoc transport system for dogs coming up from the south. He started by running a few vans down south to pick up dogs (he had other drivers working for him then), demand grew, and now he brings roughly 80 dogs north every other week in a large tractor trailer to their new homes in the northeast.
Once he started, how did he organize it? Did he fundraise or was everything out of his own pocket?
Zheutlin: Rescue Road Trips is a limited liability corporation, though it’s in the process of becoming a non-profit. Greg financed the operation himself. He charges a fee for each dog he transports but it’s close to a break-even proposition with some left over to meet living expenses. In the early days he even borrowed gas money from his girlfriend who is now his wife, Adella. It’s a hardscrabble life in some ways; given the hours he works he’s making well below minimum wage but the rewards are enormous. He loves his work.
Does he cover the whole US, or just parts? How does he decide where to go?
Zheutlin: The route, which has varied a bit over time, and which he does faithfully every other week, takes him from his home in Ohio down to Texas, across Louisiana, into Mississippi and Alabama then up to the northeast. The route has evolved over time and he gauges where the need is greatest.
Where does he take the dogs?
Zheutlin: Dogs are picked up at various stops in the south and dropped off at meeting points in the northeast, mainly New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Adopters come to these public meeting places, many are parking lots, to meet the new love of their lives.
How did you get involved in this?
Zheutlin: In 2012 after many years of resistance, I agreed with my wife to get a dog and we adopted Albie, a Lab mix, from Louisiana. Greg drove him north. Greg documents every trip on Facebook and I got interested in what he does. He seemed to so happy in this work. I wanted to understand more about the plight of dogs such as Albie and thought Greg might be the gateway into the whole world of canine rescue. So I rode along with Greg for two days in 2013 to write a story about him for Parade Magazine and that article evolved into the book. In sum, it was my curiosity about my own dog, and how he came to us that started it…I wanted to know whose hands and hearts were extended to get him to us.
Did you travel a lot with Greg while researching your book?
Zheutlin: Yes, in all I traveled about 7,000 miles with Greg and made other trips down south to learn about the many other people involved in rescuing dogs. Greg is the first person to point out that he is just one cog in the wheel and that as the man who unites the dogs with their families he gets to do the happy work. There are many others portrayed in the book who are invisible even to adopters who do incredibly hard, heart-wrenching work and sacrifice enormously to save these dogs.
What are the future plans for Rescue Road Trips – any plans to expand, add drivers? etc?
Zheutlin: When Greg was running vans he had other drivers, but he didn’t like entrusting the dogs to others. He wants to be hand on with every dog who travels with Rescue Road Trips. So, it’s safe to say he’s not going to expand. But he’s told me he will do this job as long as he is physically able. Hopefully there is a new trailer in the future…the one he uses now is near the end of its useful life!