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Friday, October 12, 2018

A Decade of Driving Dogs to Forever Homes (Including One for Meghan Markel)

By Cynthia Smith
Most people party or chill out on Friday nights. Since 2008, Pat Lehman has spent hers transferring dogs--as the first leg of a lifesaving ‘bucket brigade.’ 

Each week, volunteers from shelters meet Pat and other transporters at designated points outside Louisville and Lexington. On any given Friday, 10-35 dogs are transported north. Pat usually places seven or eight in cages in her van, and then drives them to northern Kentucky or Cincinnati, where ‘overnighters’ keep them until morning. 

Early on Saturday, the dogs are moved to a hotel parking lot close to the interstate, where new drivers then take them to Columbus. These ‘dog legs’ continue until the animals arrive at shelters in Northern Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Canada, where foster families or new owners are waiting. 

A Rendezvous Point for Saving Dogs
There can be as many as 30 people involved in a run, organized by Rhonda Frey, local head of the North American Great Pyrenees Rescue. Other groups also ferry dogs to Cincinnati, a convenient meeting point where I-75 and I-71 come together.

Pat got involved in driving dogs through Sheltered Paws--a foster group that works with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Cincinnati. She now serves on their board. Pat is also active with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose activities include building kennels for owners who fail to provide animals with protection from the elements. “Chaining dogs to trees is considered ‘sheltering’ in some nearby states,” explains Pat.

The transporters also help with Christmas and summer rescue events, when a number of Kentucky shelters are emptied, or the number of dogs is reduced and dogs are placed in Cincinnati area foster homes. Without this help, the dogs would be euthanized, as the shelters have no staff at the holidays, and fill beyond capacity in the summer. 

Pat Lehman with her own dogs at Glenwood Gardens, left to right, Sadie, Bobby, and Rhys.
Why Transport South to North?
More southern dogs are in need of a home, Pat guesses, because people are poorer there, it is more challenging to keep a dog, and vet care is not as available. “We get all breeds, purebreds as well as mutts, that have been abandoned, but we get more beagles than any other type; they are dumped after outliving their usefulness as hunting dogs.”  

One reason so many dogs find owners in Canada is that country is further ahead on spay/neuter and rescue. “It is not as socially accepted there to buy a dog from a store or breeder.” 

Volunteer transporter Barry Young with Einstein.
A Pup for The Duchess
Pat’s most famous dog was Guy, adopted by Meghan Markle - who married Prince Harry earlier this year. Pat tells the story: “In 2015, Guy was dropped off at a shelter in southeast Kentucky. Our group, with myself driving him from Lexington to Cincinnati, transported him to Toronto, where he was shown at an adoption fair attended by Meghan, who was in town filming Suits. Guy is royalty now: the Queen drove him to the wedding reception herself!” Pat jokes that she now has something in common with the Queen besides being British. “We both transport dogs!”

Her Many Hats
Pat retired from Wyoming schools in 2011 after serving as a psychologist for 30 years. Now she is a part-time psychologist at Northwest schools. She is also a Surrogate Parent. “I work with schools all around Cincinnati to make sure the needs of children in foster care are met,” she explains. She hopes to expand this role soon, as the needs and number of foster children has risen dramatically in recent years.

Hiking is another passion. In June, Pat led 21 people on an adventure in southwest Ireland, which was her sixth time leading a hiking tour. She also competes in marathons as a race walker, and became part of the Flying Pig Squadron this year after completing 10 full Flying Pig marathons.
And, Pat is heavily involved in local politics. She has already started knocking on doors to get out the vote for Fall 2018.

Snawntay Rucker with Izzie, left, Molly Merrow with Einstein, right. 
The Rewards of Transporting Dogs
Driving doesn’t pay, unless you count the 13 cents per mile drivers get off their taxes. But there are other rewards. For Pat, it is “seeing the improvements in care, seeing each dog that has found a home. When I touch an animal, loading it into my van, I know it is going to a better life.” 

Meet Charles. 
Pat loves meeting people involved in rescue. The foster folks and transporters are like her family. Some pull up in a Mercedes; others a beat-up truck. Pat says she has friends--a couple who work as janitors at Northwest--who drive down to get dogs every Friday, overnight four to six of them, and then drive them to Columbus on Saturday. “No matter who drives, the dogs know something good is happening. We offer them love and tenderness, and they respond. Out of the thousands of dogs I have transported, I have never been bitten.”

You might say dog rescue is in Pat’s blood. Animal welfare laws started in Britain in 1824 with protections for workhorses, and the first time Pat donated to a cause, at age 9 or 10, she supported the League Against Cruel Sports--whose mission was to eliminate the hunting of foxes and stags with dogs.

Puppy Bandit at handoff in Blue Ash.
Pat’s sister, Pamela, helps fund a rescue in Spain, which provides shelter for abandoned animals and organizes dog transfers from Spain to northern European countries. Pat’s husband, Burk, has done dog runs, and helps with the cages; son Keir and his wife have a rescue dog; daughter Bronwyn has a rescue cat. 

It goes without saying that the Lehmans own several dogs themselves. (Rescues, of course.) 

Want to get involved in dog transfer, foster or adoption, or surrogate parenting? Send an email to stating your interest, and she will get you on the appropriate list to be contacted. 

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