Hound Rescue Group Gives At-Risk Dogs a New Lease on Life
Sometimes the road to helping dogs isn't direct and happens by way of an accident meant to happen. Just ask Marie-Louise Guernsey, founder and president of Operation Helping Hounds (OHH), an organization that works to relocate and transport at-risk hound breeds from overpopulated shelters.
She didn't know it then, but her fire for hound rescue missions was ignited in 2006, when Guernsey met her would-be husband Tom. He had a dog named Emily, a lovable hound mix, one that the couple originally thought was a beagle. Guernsey had no idea that his lovable pup would change the course of her life (or that she wasn't actually a beagle, as they'd find out later). As an animal lover, Guernsey had previously worked to help rescue cats. And while she says she didn't know anything about dogs at the time, a few years later she'd officially been won over by those adorable hound eyes. The family decided to adopt another beagle named Shamrock—this time an actual beagle who looked nothing like Emily. The family began meeting other hound pet parents, and in 2013, Guernsey started volunteering with a beagle rescue group.
To say they love their dogs would be an understatement, so when their beloved Emily passed away in 2016, Guernsey found herself trying to console a distraught Tom. "Would you like it if I helped another dog in her honor?" she asked him. He was thrilled. "I would like that," he told her.
Operation Helping Hounds is Born
She may not have known it then, but that conversation was a starting point for Guernsey's next mission: to help rescue as many dogs like Emily as she can. Now in its fifth year, the nonprofit Operation Helping Hounds has helped to relocate 800 homeless, neglected, and abused at-risk hound dogs. The organization provides the logistics to get the pups out of high-kill shelters and overwhelmed rescues and transport the dogs to partner rescues on the West Coast. There, beagles like Shamrock and other at-risk breeds including basset hounds, bloodhounds, and coonhounds have a better chance of finding loving new homes.
As Guernsey searched for another dog to help in Emily's honor, she tells Daily Paws that she found a hound in need at a shelter in Tennessee, a treeing walker coonhound named Matilda. But there was a problem: Guernsey and Tom lived in San Diego, 2,000 miles away from the shelter where the anxiously awaiting pup was held.
She quickly realized that transporting Matilda would be an issue, since flying an animal can be very expensive, and the drive there and back would take days. After researching all the different ways of getting an animal from one state to another, Guernsey eventually found a rescue group in Mississippi who could help get the dog to the West Coast. The pooch finally arrived in California through a leg transport—a system where volunteers help move the animal to their new home for about an hour's drive at a time in their personal vehicle (similar to a relay). It took two days to transport Matilda from Tennessee to Mississippi, and then from Mississippi to San Diego.
An Eye-Opening Experience
While Matilda made her way across the country, Guernsey became immersed in a world she didn't know existed previously. "The more I looked into it, the more I saw how horrific the situation was for these hounds in certain states," she tells Daily Paws. She noticed the problem was particularly bad in southern states, where hound breeds are more common because of their natural hunting abilities. These scenthounds have powerful noses and a keen ability track their prey, which makes them a sought-after dog for hunters in the rural South and Midwest. Guernsey found that while the dogs are used throughout the hunting season, the outlook after the season ends can turn dire. Some are abandoned in the woods, injured during hunting, or become strays when their nose catches a scent and they get lost (or left behind after a hunt). The dogs who are considered the "lucky ones" are taken to shelters and relinquished to animal control facilities—many of which don't have the space or resources to support an influx of dogs who are suddenly unwanted. To put it simply: the situation is bleak, and the days are numbered for hounds in overpopulated facilities.
Guernsey calls the situation a crisis, pointing out that some hunters will use a dog for one season and then get a new one for the next hunting season, further exacerbating the problem with puppy mills that operate to meet the demands. In 2018, OHH helped transport 65 beagles from one such place in Tennessee—a puppy mill where more than 100 dogs lived outside in tiny rabbit hutches.
The more Guernsey learned about the issue, the more she was driven to find a solution to help. As a hound lover herself, she knew that in addition to their abilities as a hunting and tracking breed, these dogs also make wonderful family pets.
Scott Stroud, a pet parent to two rescue coonhounds in Des Moines, Iowa and lifelong dog owner, tells Daily Paws his hounds are some of the most loyal, affectionate dogs he's ever had. "At the end of the day, these dogs just love to cuddle and hang out with their families like any other breed. They make great pets for active families and are incredibly lovable and loyal."
But like many who know the joy of adopting a hound breed, Stroud is well aware of the shelter overcrowding situation in areas where hunting with hounds is still in practice. "It's shocking how many hounds are sitting at the pound, waiting to find a family." Guernsey likens it to the plight of bully breeds in shelters, telling San Diego's CBS 8 that the dogs are euthanized at a high velocity. "They are kind of like the pit bulls of California," she says.
Partnering for the Hounds
After Matilda made it to San Diego, Guernsey kept going, working to bring hounds to the West Coast where there are not as many of them and demand from potential adopters is higher. First it was one and two dogs at a time that made the trek, then transport missions expanded to include more and more dogs: 10 at a time, then 20, and a recent emergency mission with 57 dogs from Tulsa, Okla. due to the extreme winter weather and below-zero temperatures.
Guernsey formed an official nonprofit, and OHH now partners with several other rescues to move dogs from eight states and help alleviate the situation of overpopulation and crowded shelters. The group's large transports—also known as "hound hauls"—are made possible through partners like Priceless Pets Rescue. The California-based rescue provides their custom-designed animal transport vehicle for OHH to use for larger trips with several dogs.
Aside from moving pets with the Priceless Pets bus, Guernsey also travels with the high-risk dogs using a paid transporter (a business that transports animals for a fee), or leg transports like the one that brought Matilda to California, which are free but can only move a couple of dogs at a time. Third Coast Animal Rescue in Mobile, Ala. conducts all of the leg transports from Alabama and Georgia. Another partner—the Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter (KRRAS) in Hazard, Ky.—always has many hounds that OHH takes. "They told us that before we came along they had trouble getting anybody to take the hounds," Guernsey says. "That's the problem. Nobody wants to adopt the hounds in the states where the dogs are known as hunting dogs. They're not known as pets."
While OHH takes care of the transportation, the established rescue groups they work with are the ones responsible for adopting the dogs, vetting the adopters, and finding the pups their new homes. Priceless Pets takes in most of the hounds and works to get them adopted into loving homes in Southern California. Other partners who take in the dogs across the region include the Southern Nevada Beagle Rescue Foundation and Seattle-based Beagle Rescue.
What's Next for Operation Helping Hounds?
A hound haul is scheduled for March 20, 2021, three weeks after the hunting season ends when hound intake increases. Guernsey is on standby waiting for dogs to come in so they can be transported.
Since 2016, OHH has relocated 800 hounds—an impressive number considering almost all the transports are operated by volunteers. The group is always open to adding new partners so they can save the greatest number of animals in need. Guernsey says individuals looking to help can sponsor the dogs financially (it takes more than $200 to transport each dog, not including their pre-transport vet costs like a rabies vaccine). The group is also hoping to add a trailer that could be pulled behind a truck, in hopes of relocating more dogs with each haul.
While the work of any animal rescue organization is endless, it's a fulfilling mission, and one that Guernsey is called to continue. She says she enjoys seeing that so many people in California love the hound breed, especially since the dogs have come from places where they were previously taken advantage of, and even abused. But one highlight for Guernsey is personal. "It has gone from me tracking down the shelter that Emily originated from—which was kind of hard because I wasn't even around when she arrived—and being able to come full circle and help that shelter."