Operation Roger connects furry friends with new families

By Sean O’Connell

When you are a truck driver, all cargo is considered precious. But sometimes, the item that a trucker is hauling is furry, four-legged, and has a unique emotional power that can warm hearts, heal souls and bond humans.

Welcome to Operation Roger, a nonprofit, Texas-based animal rescue program that relies on kind-hearted truckers and willing volunteers to transport lost and abused animals that have been rescued to new families around the country. So far this year, Operation Roger has delivered 28 pets – according to the statistics on the organization’s Web site, http://operationroger.rescuegroups.org. They have transported 831 pets since launching in September 2005.

Operation Roger was started by Sue Wiese, a former trucker who became very concerned about the number of abandoned pets affected by Hurricane Katrina after that horrific storm hit America’s Gulf Coast region.

“My heart was just breaking from all the stories about the pets,” Wiese told the Today show during a 2011 interview.

“I was driving down the road and I was praying, ‘Lord, what can I do? I’m just a truck driver.’ And then I heard one word: Transport.”

According to the American Humane Association, about 3.7 million stray and unwanted animals are put to sleep in U.S. shelters each year. Wiese says that she named Operation Roger after one of her dogs. Now it has become the number one name in animal rescue transport.


Drivers Needed

“We’re a ragtag group of pet lovers who want to help pets who already have a home to go to, give them some T.L.C., and a hitchhike to get there,” Wiese told NBC during an interview.

She points out that Operation Roger is not a “rescue” program, however. They specialize in transportation, and the organization only transports once the pet in question has a place to go.

“We are like the volunteer car-to-car transports who do 1- to 2-hour legs to get a pet moved,” the site describes. “Our difference is we are able to do quite a bit longer legs.  Often, we are able to do the entire trip.”

The biggest need facing Operation Roger at the moment isn’t a lack of transportable pets: It’s the availability of drivers to engage in the hauls.

We spoke with Wiese about her organization’s top challenges.

“We are always needing drivers who can catch the vision of what impact they can make by getting a pet to its new home,” Wiese tells us. “Many of these pets would have been put down otherwise. We have only a handful of some 30 drivers and need twice that and more in order to get the pets moved quickly. The more truckers who will take part and comply with our requirements will find they will feel better about themselves and the good deeds they can do for God’s four-legged critters…sometimes more. We just delivered two tarantulas!”

Operation Roger is made up entirely of volunteers. They have no paid staff, so everything is done as soon as the personal/trucking lives of the drivers permits.

“We are truckers first and therefore the requirements of our job must come first so we cannot offer door-to-door pickup and delivery,” it clarifies on the group’s Web site. “Generally speaking, arrangements are made in advance with the driver to meet the person sending the pet (shipper) at a nearby truck-stop or travel plaza. The driver checks the pet’s paperwork and is given at least 10 days of food, a crate if pet is under 30 pounds, a proper collar/harness and leash, toys, etc. At the destination, the person who is waiting for the pet (receiver) agrees to meet the driver (and his passenger) at a predetermined location where the pet is then handed off to the new owners so it can start its new life in a forever home. At either location, it could be at 1 p.m. in the afternoon or 1 a.m. in the morning. It is on the driver’s schedule.”

Sean Kiel is one of those drivers. He had been driving on behalf of Operation Roger for years when he sat down with the Today show in 2011 for an interview.

“Here I am, a big ol’ tough truck driver, and I’m sitting here choking up right now,” Kiel said, recalling the time he dropped a Bichon Frise dog from a puppy mill and transported it to a woman in California who was eager to give the dog a good home.

“She was so happy to get that dog — just absolutely happy. It was so touching to see.”


You Can Help

Don’t drive a truck? Operation Roger still can use your assistance.

Wiese points out to us that family members and friends can get involved by submitting applications to be a “Layover Home,” temporary foster shelters where pets can stay during a transport. Also, the organization is always in need of Shuttle Drivers, who usually have a 4-wheeler-non CDL license.

There are a lot of details on the Operation Roger Web site. Wiese has narrowed her process down to a science over the years. Everyone who wants to go through Operation Roger needs to fill out an application. The group does not do “emergency” recues. It does not take barnyard animals, and it does not accept pets who are “not at least partially housebroken.”

“Tell us the whole truth,” Wiese writes on the site. “This, of course, does not apply to puppies but to the older dogs. Drivers do not have time to provide this training.

If you absolutely would not leave this pet loose in your bedroom and, thus, on your bed, don’t put them in ours.”

ALL pets accepted by Operation Roger must be sociable with humans. If it takes a pet more than a few minutes to at least accept a driver — and the pet remains confrontational – Operation Roger we may not transport, and the pet may be removed from the group’s board.

The organization is constantly recruiting, as it relies 100 percent on volunteers and manpower to keep the animals in transport.

“In March we were at MATS, both inside and on Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium parking lot with our tent and annual auction,” Wiese told us. “We plan to be at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in Walcott, Iowa, in July, and at GATS in Dallas, TX, in August, always in search of more help.”

Wiese says that Operation Roger also needs “big time supporters” to keep its doors open and its wheels turning.

“We are a struggling 501(c)(3) non-profit,” she said. “We rely on our small Pet Transport Application of $35, as of May 1, to cover our office expenses. We need other donations to supplement that and to travel to these truck shows in search of drivers.”

Operation Roger really needs trucking companies to step up to recognize the public relations benefit their company could realize by allowing drivers to transport.

“Even those companies who have banned pets could recognize good drivers by allowing them to participate,” said Wiese. “We put every driver through our ORU (Operation Roger University) safety/orientation class before they ever take a pet on board. This currently is a 1 1/2 hour class, all done by conference call. Any interested company official would be welcomed to sit in and even add their own requirements for their drivers.”

Robert Montagna is one of those drivers. Based in Michigan, he says that he has witnessed some of the intense emotional connections established when he transported a dog to a willing recipient in Colorado.

“When they saw each other, they just ran together toward each other like it was in a movie,” Montagna said. “She cried and cried when she saw that dog.”

It is an experience that has changed his life.

“I just love doing this,” Montagna said. “I always say that if I won a big lottery, I’d buy a big RV and I’d call Sue up and say, ‘Where’s the dog at? I’ll deliver it.’ And after that, I’d call her and say, ‘OK, where’s the next dog at?’ I’d just keep doing this all over the country.”

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