It was a chance meeting. When a group of friends walked through the door of a small, unassuming coffee shop in the rural, mountain town of Cascade, Idaho, no one knew the ramifications.
Aaron McGehee was on a week’s leave from the U.S. Army at Fort Polk, LA, and had returned home to Payette, Idaho, to visit his ailing grandmother. While home, Aaron, along with his mother, Shelly McGehee, and a group of friends had traveled to Cascade, where they decided to visit a coffee shop in town. Aaron was the last of the group to order, but when he did, he had a surprise visitor from behind the counter. Scooby, the coffee shop owner’s dog, came out to meet and greet the visitors.
The visit quickly spurred a conversation between Aaron and shop owner, Reme’ Maple. While the two had never met before, the conversation turned to Aaron explaining he needed to find a way to get his dog — a cocker spaniel named Vegeta — home from Louisiana to Idaho before he received his discharge from the Army.
By coincidence, Maple had the answer. Both Scooby and another dog, Gypsy, had been transported across the country to Cascade though a program known as “Operation Roger,” a volunteer operation that uses truck drivers traveling throughout the United States to transport pets. As soon as Maple told Aaron McGehee about the program, he knew that was the way to go.
“It was awesome,” Maple said. “It was kind of like it was meant to be.”
Maple had experience with Operation Roger, having the two shelter dogs transported across the country, one from Louisiana (Scooby) and the other from Georgia (Gypsy). Scooby was scheduled to be euthanized the same day when Maple found a foster home for her, while she waited to be transported to Cascade. Gypsy, too, was scheduled to be euthanized, but was already in a foster home. Gypsy, a black mouth cur and Staffordshire mix, was eventually brought to Cascade as a companion for a terminally ill man. After his death, Maple fostered Gypsy until she was adopted by a couple from Boise in mid-November.
Scooby, a black mouth cur and boxer mix, has adopted the Maples as her forever family and was the reason behind McGehee getting Vegeta from Louisiana back to Idaho.
“We were talking about her dog because I liked her dog and I just started petting it because it was friendly,” Aaron McGehee said. “I started telling her about my issue and she gave me the information.”
McGehee adopted Vegeta (named after a character from the animated Dragon Ball Z series) from a litter of puppies. Since he lived in the barracks, he had friends keep the dog for him. The first friend’s wife was pregnant, however, and soon didn’t want the dog around.
“She didn’t want him at all because he was destructive (chewing) and she was going through her pregnancy stages,” McGehee said. “My only other option was to have him go to another friend’s house, but he could only stay for a little while.”
However, while Vegeta was staying at the second friend’s house on-base, a surprise inspect was performed.
“They didn’t see the dog, or we would have gotten in trouble,” McGehee said. “But they knew he was there. They said, ‘You have to get him out or you’re going to be in trouble.’
“To have a pet, you have to have them registered on-base. I didn’t have the money to register him at the time,” McGehee said. “I was kind of freaking out because I knew if I didn’t get Vegeta out of there, I was going to have to give him to a new home. Her (Maple) telling me all this information was like, ‘Yes, I can finally get him home.’”
After returning from Idaho to Louisiana, McGehee began the process of filling out a very detailed application through Operation Roger to get the ball rolling. A small up-front fee (now a $40 fee for the paperwork needed to arrange transportation) along with the application started the process.
McGehee traveled two hours to Shreveport, LA, to meet with the first “layover” and deliver Vegeta. The person from the layover home also traveled two hours, from Texas to Shreveport, to make the connection. Vegeta remained in the home for about a month before a transport connection could be arranged.
After that, it was a series of truck drivers who were willing to transport the dog in the cab of their truck to the next layover site or the next driver en route to the dog’s home. The whole process took about two months.
“It took quite a process to get (Vegeta) home,” Shelly McGehee said. “He stayed at several people’s houses along the way. I kept asking, ‘Aaron, are you sure they’re sending your dog home? Are they keeping your dog?’”
Finally, though, it happened. Vegeta was delivered to Shelly McGehee in September and Aaron McGehee was discharged and returned home Oct. 3, where he and Vegeta were reunited.
Shelly McGehee stressed Operation Roger isn’t just for dogs and cats. “They do snakes, turtles, spiders … whatever needs transported and they are willing to transport it,” she said. Operation Roger does not transport barnyard animals and the larger the pet, the longer it may take to get the animal transported. In fact, the driver who transported Vegeta on his final leg of the journey (Brad M.) had recently transported a mastiff, which required him to remove the passenger seat from his truck to accommodate the large dog.
Aaron McGehee said the application was long and very detailed, but well worth the effort. According to Maple, it needs to be. “They want to make sure the dog is vetted and you have to have a health certificate,” she said.
Operation Roger is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity with the mission of transporting rescued pets to a new home or reuniting pets with their owners in an inexpensive manner. Those wanting to transport a small pet through Operation Roger must first fill out an application for transport and pay a non-refundable, tax-deductible donation of $40, which helps offset the costs associated with transporting the animal. All members of Operation Roger are volunteers.
“As of early December, Operation Roger had completed transport for 64 pets in 2014, bringing the total number of pets transported to 849 since 2005.”
Because of this, it can take some time to have a pet transported anywhere across the country. Operation Roger cannot give those using the service a specific time of when a pet will arrive at its destination and, therefore, cannot do emergency requests. It can take as little as a couple of weeks for travel or it can take up to a few months. Everything depends on truckers who can transport the animals and when they will be in the general area of the destination.
Those who transport the pets are truckers first and must meet the requirements of their job. Therefore, the pet may have to be boarded at “layover” homes en route to their final destination. These homes are temporary foster homes and are also volunteers for Operation Roger who agree to keep the pet until transportation can be arranged.
Pets must be at least partially house trained (with the exception of young puppies). Pets will ride in the cab of the truck and drivers cannot take the time to house train animals while doing their job.
Those receiving the pet may have to drive a few hours to make contact with the truck driver and take possession of the pet. This meeting can take place anytime during the day or night, depending on the truck driver’s schedule. The person picking up the pet must agree to meet the truck driver in person at a predetermined location where the animal will be handed off.
As of early December, Operation Roger had completed transport for 64 pets in 2014, bringing the total number of pets transported to 849 since 2005. Operation Roger has a goal of transporting 1,000 pets by its 10th anniversary on September 16, 2015.
Those wanting to transport a pet should visit www.operationroger.com, read the instructions on how to register and fill out an application. Make sure to read the instruction carefully and understand the application process. You must register with Operation Roger before you can fill out an application. Failure to fill out the application correctly and entirely will result in delays getting your pet transported.
Applications for those wanting to volunteer for Operation Roger are also available on the site. Volunteers can be truck drivers wanting to transport pets, layover homes, shuttle drivers or non-pet transport.
Author: Larry Hurrle, Editor