BRUNSWICK — Just before 9:30 Monday morning, a big orange van pulled into the parking lot of the Coastal Humane Society.
Inside were six adult dogs and 34 puppies.
They’d just made a 36-hour journey from Magee, Mississippi, to the Range Road shelter, and they smelled like it.
As CHS staffer Kate Cochran threw open the door of the van, the puppies yipped and howled, eager to get out of the crates they’d been confined to for the past day and a half.
Cochran and volunteer Alice Fish drove to Mississippi Sept. 23, and then spent a couple days resting and helping the dogs get ready for the trip. They left Saturday night, taking turns driving to make it back to Maine in a straight shot.
“Once we get moving the puppies really quiet down,” Cochran said. “But sometimes they wake up, and start making that screeching sound for about 45 minutes.
“You kind of stop noticing it after a while,” she added.
Although the drive was over, the puppies had to wait a little while longer to escape the crates.
That’s because CHS staff and volunteers take the adult dogs off one by one, and then the puppies off one litter at a time, to give them a full health screening before they’re brought into the shelter.
These dogs all came from Mississippi, where the whole region “struggles with overcrowding” of abandoned or homeless animals, according to CHS Marketing Manager Jane Siviski.
In the Northeast, the “spay-neuter culture” is much more developed, she said, and as a consequence there are much fewer stray or abandoned dogs.
“We’re happy we can come down and help them out,” she said.
The shelter these dogs came from, Wolf Pond, usually has more than 100 dogs at a time, Siviski said, and is run by a retired couple and just a few volunteers.
But up in Maine, the puppies “go like hotcakes,” Program Director Christine Wolff said.
Even as the South has an oversupply of rescued animals, she said, Maine and New England have a healthy demand for adoption.
“These guys will all be gone by Monday,” she said.
CHS is partnering with Petco this weekend to hold a “mega adoption” event at Petco’s Topsham store Oct. 3 and 4.
For every animal adopted this weekend, Petco will donate $50 to CHS. If there are more than 50 adoptions, the company will donate $100 per animal.
“This is the first time we’re doing something on this scale,” said Wolff.
“We really wanted to make a big thing of it,” Siviski added.
On Monday, the dogs slept, whined, and played with each other as they waited for their screenings.
CHS gives each dog a full health screening, spays or neuters them, and then puts them in quarantine for four to five days. It is the only shelter in Maine with a full-time veterinarian on staff, according to Wolff.
Volunteers Trea King, of Brunswick, and Shelly Reed, of Wayne, helped staffer Kate Cochran lead the dogs into the screening room.
Cochran opened the door of one crate for Alexis, an 8-week-old Australian shepherd puppy. The staffer slipped a leash around the dog’s neck before Alexis jumped down and took her first unsteady steps on Maine soil.
Cochran brought the dog in to Allie Athearn, CHS’s lead animal care technician, who was wearing a disposable pair of yellow gloves and a gown she changes between each check-up to limit the spread of any infections.
“This is one of the most stressful experiences they’ll ever go through in their lives,” said Athearn, guiding Alexis onto a scale. “In two days, you won’t even recognize them.”
Alexis was 25.7 pounds, and was free of any ticks or ringworm. Athearn gave her two doses of de-wormer, a few treats, and then sent her on her way.
Alexis and the other 39 dogs will all be at Petco on Saturday and Sunday, healthy and ready for adoption. The event will run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. each day.
Finding “forever homes” for animals “is the best part of my job,” said Wolff, as the next dog hopped down from the van to go to the screening room.
One dog may have already found a home Monday. CHS volunteer Alice Fish said that on the drive she’d made a connection with Maria, a 4-year-old Chihuahua.
Fish stood with Maria in the midst of the barking and crates Monday, holding the tiny dog to her chest.
She already has 10 dogs at home, she said, “but I’m going to go talk to my husband and kids.”
She may soon have 11.
Animal Technician Allie Athearn holds eight-week-old puppy Alexis during a health screening Sept. 28 at Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick.
Forty dogs made the journey from Magee, Mississippi, to Brunswick for an adoption event this weekend.
Coastal Humane Society volunteers Shelly Reed and Trea King keep an eye on 34 Mississippi puppies waiting for health checks in Brunswick.