This week we talk with Mike McCarthy about Rescue Express, an initiative of MGM Animal Foundation. With a shortage of adoptable dogs in the Pacific Northwest, his organization has been involved with taking animals from high-kill shelters in southern California & driving them north through CA, OR, WA, and even into Canada to find their forever home. They have been providing animals their “freedom rides” since February 2015 & are now working to add a tractor-trailer to their fleet.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is proudly sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relate Transport. Now on with our show today, we’re talking with Mike McCarthy, retired software entrepreneur Where’s the founder of Rescue Express and has been working with rescue groups for more than 20 years. While working with shelters in Oregon, it became evident that nearly all of the rescues were coming from Southern California. Seeing how animals were arriving to the rescues and smaller vehicles, dehydrated and often in rough shape, inspired him to start Rescue Express with a larger vehicle to safely and humanely transport more animals in one trip. Their mission is to save lives by transporting animals from high kill shelters and over populated areas to their forever homes. Hey, Mike, welcome to the program. Thanks. So tell us a little bit about you and your background and how you got into animal rescue. I have an accounting degree in information systems degree. And I was in the automated accounting systems in From my from college. And after that, I started my own company and sold that back in 98. And, uh, after that, I got involved. I was living in Austin, Texas, and got involved in the animal rescue world there. And once you get involved, it’s it’s pretty hard toe, not keep getting involved. Because because there’s just so much need for help on duh improvement. Sure. Yeah. So that was I mean, you’ve been in this for over 20 years now. Yeah, absolutely. So you were obviously an I t guys who said in an accountant and then after you sold your companies that really when you got more involved in animal rescue? Well, you know, I always had a soft spot in my heart for animals. And but yes, I would say after I sold the company is when I started to get involved in in a more significant way, okay? And so then you got more involved in you started to learn about the challenges and the problems, and then kind of tell us where that took you. Uh, well, with regard to the, uh, rescue express and transporting animals. I saw I was up working in Eugene, Oregon, and I saw that a lot of the rescue groups up there were getting animals from Southern California, mostly little ones, but, you know, pit bulls and things like that as well. And I saw that the transporters that we’re bringing those animals up. We’re often not doing it very well. Another box trucks and, uh, you know, bands that were stuffed in with animals. And I just decided that I would do some research and see, you know how how we might be able to do something that was, you know, more central that we could We could provide service to a bunch of these groups, um, as 1/3 party. So I started to do some research on vehicles, and, um, and the school buses were vehicles that were really durable. And, you know, they have rubber floor and metal sides, and you can get a 40 foot bus which allows you to, but as many animals in a zoo reasonably can in and we have about 100 carriers and the buses, And so you have two people on the bus and you’re carrying, you know, 125 150 animals you can You can keep your costs down low on dumb and provide service to a bunch of different groups. We have 300 rescue partners that we work with. And by being 1/3 party, it allows all these rescue groups to get access to very high quality transport services without having to, you know, sort of created themselves. No, I just think it’s such a really cool idea. I mean, so what gave you the idea toe? Look at school buses. I mean, you talked about that. People are used in all different types of transport, but I think you’re the 1st 1 that I’ve heard of. That’s that’s taking this to another level. Well, I did some research. There was a group in Southern California that was gonna buy a new vehicle that I was working with. And, um, I just started to do some research myself, and, you know, just if you’re going to transport animals, you want to transport as many as you possibly can. It would seem because there’s an unlimited number that need need, re relocating the school buses air very plentiful. Obviously, every almost every city has school buses, and they’re really high quality. Mercedes Benz actually owns, um, uh, Thomas buses, which is what the buses that we use. And they’re very high quality vehicles and pretty pretty economical to buy and modify and operate. That’s how it kind of came to the to use the school buses. Cool. So talk to us a little bit about your process. I mean, you know what? What goes into preparing for one of these trips, you know? How are you? How are you doing this? Well, the first thing we did, I guess when we started this is that we knew that we would have to use the rescue partners because we couldn’t go into the shelters ourselves or we didn’t want to go into the shelters ourselves. The rescue groups are already in existence, and they’re pulling animals out of the shelters. And so we decided that we would work through them. So what? What we do is try toe, facilitate the rescue groups in the south and in the north. So we have, like, a list of everybody that’s participating in our program and we try to just get them Teoh, communicate with each other and, you know, make them make a reservation on the bus. And then we do the we do the transport from the from our lists that we generated the end of the week. Very cool. And then how many people are involved in this? I mean, you must have quite a crew of people that have to get all the operation set up and actually operating the buses. Yeah, way. We have a operations manager who’s who’s managing the reservations and signing up new partners and things like that so that that’s one person I’m I’m involved in it as well. And we have drivers and and a fund raiser. And so we you know, we have. We have four or five people that are involved in it. Okay, so now you started back in 2015. I’m guessing with one school bus. Tell us a little bit about your growth and how things were going now. Well, we started with one bus. It was a hit off the bat. The bus is always full, and it became evident, but we were running the bus every other week and then we started doing it every week, and sometimes the bus would need some maintenance or something. And it was It was difficult to try to get it done during the week. You know, if you have to go the next weekend. So we started. We bought another bust, so we had two buses to be able to make that runs consistently. And then we started working with a group in Houston when we when the hurricane was there. And we have. Since then we have started a bus transport from their Teoh from Houston, Teoh, Minnesota and other states. Up that way. So we now have. We actually now have four buses, and we are also out about outfitting a tractor trailer truck that we’re going to use on the California program because that one that one has well, the one bus is always full, and there’s lots more partners that need transport. So we’re going to start using that tractor trailer truck which will have 300 carriers versus 100 carriers in the bus, and that will probably carry 400 animals. So we have. We have the four buses now, and the tractor trailer, which is about probably a month away from being on the road. Wow, that is absolutely amazing. And how many animals have you transported to date? Um, we’re probably about 14,500. Wow, that’s awesome. What a great impact. What a great story. So we’ll probably move will probably move 12,000 animals this year alone. Wow, that’s amazing. The growth in and like you talked about I mean, what what’s driving all of this need for transport? Well, um, you know, a lot of in California anyway, and it’s kind of the same in Houston is there’s a lot of shelters that air taking in animals, you know, on a daily basis. And there’s just not enough traffic to come in and do the adoptions. And so they’re they’re you know, they’ve been doing this for years and years, and they’ve been euthanizing these animals, you know, Now the general public has got involved in these in the activities of their local shelter, and they want them to be a little more creative and try to find other solutions other than euthanizing. And everybody’s kind of realized why I shouldn’t say everybody but many many of the shelters have realized that there is a shortage of animals in the north and if you can get them, if you can get animals to the north there there welcomed to be there because there is a shortage. And so transport transporting animals to the north is a viable solution on a creative solution to, you know, euthanization. So tell us a little bit about the process and more about the costs, I guess, for for the shelters and rescues that are involved. Well, when I got this, when I got this started for three years ago, I decided that we would try to do it for free and try to raise money ourselves to do this. And so we don’t We don’t charge the rescues. I don’t I don’t want them to feel like they can only save as many as they can afford to save. I want us to want the money to be secondary to, you know, to saving, saving the lives. So we’re we’ve been working hard to try to fund the trips through just local local donors. Very cool. So now is it only dogs and capture. Do you guys also take other animals well on occasion We’ve taken some pigs monies. I think that’s I think that’s other than cats and dogs. That’s what we take. That’s pretty cool. Now you talked about that? You’re expanding. I mean, and you’ve started 1/4 4th route and you’re starting a tractor trailer. So what does the future look like? I mean, what what’s your plans for Rescue Express? Well, were you know, I just moved the organization from Eugene, Oregon, down to Rancho Santa Fe, California And so we’re kind of having the restart, our fund raising efforts and things like that locally here. And, um, you know, there’s lots of lots of opportunity for us to expand our model we have. We have everything we could drop in the whole program in any you know, in any state or whatever, to be able to do what we’re doing. But it costs. It costs probably 100 or $150,000 to run to run a a bus a year. And, you know, you’ve been still operate. You know, you could probably move 8000 animals, but, you know, it costs money. We’re trying to expand or into Houston now, and that’s just getting going but we we need to catch up with fundraising, because right now I’m I’m funding will probably 2/3 of the costs for our program. Definitely one of the big challenges right when you’re services were definitely needed, but you’ve got to be able to sustain it. So I’m sure funding is always something that you’re working on. Yeah. I mean, the program that we run is is great. Our costs run of bus upto up to the north and back is about $3000. We have 100 carriers and the bus that we usually have about 150 animals on the bus, give or take. So our costs for animal moved is about $20. I mean, FedEx can’t move an envelope for $20 from late Sandy A to Seattle and we can do this. It’s a it’s, you know, it’s a it’s a great deal. It’s a great value, and we do it really economically. And so, um, actually the tractor trailer truck once we get that going with 400 animals are costs will be Our cost per trip will be about $4000 we we could we have the capacity, Take 400 animals. And so the math there is is only $10 per animal moved. You know, these air. It’s a great value when I always tell people that are interested in donating. I mean, if you want. If you want your money to go a long way, um, and be really effective in saving lives. I mean, we’re we are the best best value around. Yeah, definitely. I mean, you’re making the dollar go a long way in terms of how you’re making a significant impact, right? Exactly. For now that we’re you know, we’re expanding across the country with with the transport and, you know, um, that’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’re doing right now. I’d like to do I’d like to do some other changes in regulations and enforcement, but we just you know, we’re small organization. We can only do what we can do for now. Now, I know you mentioned donations and obviously funding and helping. That’s how people can get involved. Anything else that they can do in terms of volunteering to support you guys. Uh, once we get the tractor trailer truck running, we will We will need volunteers that buses were pretty cramped, and it was pretty hard to have volunteers do much. But once a tractor trailer truck is going, we would would welcome volunteers. Donations are are you know the other thing that that we certainly need. Sure enough, people want to find more out about you guys or make a reservation. Where do they begin? If you want to become a partner and be able to transport on the bus way, have a document on the website, which is rescue express dot org’s, and you can fill that out and we will approve that and then will give you a list of all the partners in the north or the South. And you can, you know, try to find rescue groups that you can work with, depending on what your needs are. Great. Well, might Thank you so much for coming on the program. Is there anything else you wanted to share with our listeners before we wrap things up? Um, not that I can not that I can think of a way are doing great work, and we certainly need everybody’s donations to help us do this. Do this great work. Yeah, definitely. You’re having a huge impact, Mike, and we certainly appreciate, and we’ll do whatever we can to support you. So thanks again for coming on the program. Okay. Thank you very much, Chris. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, joined the air p A to take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.