The hum of the open road has a way of lulling John Dougherty into a peaceful, reflective state.
The sound also helps soothe the antsy passengers that often accompany him on long rides over the weekend. They're usually puppies, sometimes adult dogs and—every now and then—a cat. And they're in distress.
“It's crazy,” Dougherty, a 56-year-old Jeffersonville resident and physician's assistant, said. “You'll get 20 to 30 dogs and they're all going nuts. You've got puppies crying, you've got dogs barking at each other
“Then all of the sudden, once you get on the road maybe 10, 15 minutes into the trip, the hum of the road just calms them all down.”
Dougherty knows a thing or two about driving with dogs. Last year, he logged nearly 19,000 miles on the road as a volunteer animal transporter. He's one of who-knows-how-many people who belong to an extensive, somewhat underground network that helps move abused or neglected animals from one city to another in an effort to save them from euthanasia and place them into a good home.
Dougherty doesn't want a pat on the back, but when you learn how many dogs he helped rescue just last year, it's hard not to praise his good deeds.
“I did nearly 400 dogs, 10 cats, a hedgehog and a ferret,” he said.
Dougherty had always loved animals, particularly dogs. As a kid, his first pet was a pekingese mix dog his sister brought home one day. They called it Poochie.
Today, he has three dogs: Sophie, Travis Barker and Cammy, all of which came to him in need. He adopted Sophie from the Kentucky Humane Society, Travis Barker was a stray a co-worker had taken in but couldn't keep, and Cammy was a temporary foster that stole his heart and never left.
Beyond his own home, Dougherty said he's always supported animal causes, usually by writing a check. But as he befriended more and more like-minded people on Facebook, his world opened up and he knew he had to do more.
“What really caught me was the mistreated animals. When you hear stories of dogs with chains on outside in inclement weather and given no love or attention, barely given water or food ... Those are the cases that obviously drew me in to get me involved.”
So about three years ago, he responded to a call on Facebook from a rescue in Troy, Ala., that was looking for volunteer transporters to take a pit bull from Alabama to Louisville. With such long treks, a coordinator will typically arrange a relay of transporters to split up the drive, using social media to patch the trip together.
Dougherty agreed to pick up the pit bull from Franklin, Tenn., and drive it to Louisville where a woman specializing in the breed could train the dog and help get it adopted.
“I had no idea what to do with him,” Dougherty admitted.
He was given a leash and took the dog for a walk before hitting the road. He was nervous, because he'd never handled “that type of animal.” But his nerves were soon eased.
“When I put him in my car, he immediately fell asleep on my front seat and put his head on my hand while it was on the shifter,” Dougherty remembered, fighting back tears. “So I was hooked at that point.”
AN UNWANTED NEED
Now Dougherty boasts a garage stacked with kennels, plenty of leashes and an old van just for transporting animals.
“Well I've kind of become ... some of my friends refer to me as ‘crazy dog guy,' “ he joked.
He said it's hard to explain why he does what he does, but animal transporting came to him at a time in his life where he was looking for a way to get more involved and give back. Thousands of miles and dollars in gas money later, and he still finds it rewarding.
But the truth is, he'd rather not transport animals.
“I'd prefer not to be in the business actually. I want to get out of transport. I don't want to ever be needed,” he said.
“But it's there.”
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