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Ted Moriates of New York’s North Shore Animal League prepares a transport of 61 dog and
puppy rescues for the long haul north, where they’ll be put up for adoption. PARTNERS! Canines,
a Watauga County-based nonprofit organization, has teamed up with North Shore to save dogs
that would otherwise be euthanized. Since January, the local nonprofit has helped approximately
600 dogs. The animals are rescued from area shelters and transported to North Shore’s no-kill
adoption facility in Port Washington, N.Y.
Photo by Frank Ruggiero

Originally published: 2013-06-12 17:09:22
Last modified: 2013-06-12 17:10:07

Mutt-i-gree Express on the move

A local nonprofit shelter dog rescue organization, PARTNERS! Canines, has been pairing with national rescue partner North Shore Animal League America in an effort to help decrease the euthanasia rates for homeless dogs and puppies in the High Country. 

Now in its fifth month of operation, the High Country Mutt-i-gree Express has already helped to save the lives of hundreds of adoptable dogs and puppies in Watauga and surrounding counties, according to the organization. 

And, according to PARTNERS! Canines president and founder, Melissa Bahleda, as the program continues to move forward and expand, so will the number of animals saved.

"Most of the shelters and rescue groups in the High Country region are doing what they can to help the animals in their care the best way they can," Bahleda said. "But the reality of the situation is that there are just too many animals out there needing homes, too many unwanted litters still being born and too much expected of these well-intentioned but overburdened animal care facilities. Because the shelters participating in the program often end up taking in more animals than they can care for or adopt out, sometimes they just don't have the space available to hold all the dogs and puppies they would like to be able to adopt out, so it just makes sense to pair the shelters that can't place all their adoptable dogs and puppies with other groups that can." 

Located in Port Washington, N.Y., North Shore Animal League America is the largest animal rescue and adoption organization in the world. Since 1944, North Shore Animal League America has been saving the lives of adoptable dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens -- more than 1 million to date. 

In addition to rescuing animals from owners who can no longer care for them, rescuing animals from over-crowded shelters is at the heart of their life-saving efforts. 

The Mutt-i-gree Movement was created by NSALA to help rally animal lovers from across the nation to put an end to animal cruelty and the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy companion animals. 

"Of the 8 million to 10 million healthy, vibrant, unique animals that enter our shelters each year -- the very animals NSALA identifies as 'Mutt-i-grees' -- it is estimated that more than 4 million of these are euthanized annually. The Mutt-i-gree  Movement was designed to significantly reduce that statistic," according to the organization.

PARTNERS! Canines has been working with NSALA as a transport partner for more than eight years.
 Until recently, the PARTNERS! organization and the transports were based in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, but love of the High Country and a need for her services here convinced Bahleda and her husband, Tom, to move back to Boone, a place they called home in the 1990s when Tom attended graduate school at Appalachian State University.  

 "We love the Boone area, and Watauga Humane Society was one of the first really good animal shelters that I got involved with as a young adult," Bahleda said. "Moving back here was both an opportunity to come back to a place we loved, and help with the pet overpopulation issue here"Bahleda's husband runs the inpatient care program at Watauga Medical Center. 

"Obviously, we have an issue here of too many animals in our shelters, but we also have an issue of too many adoptable animals in our shelters not getting adopted," Bahleda said. "It's sad when any animal in a shelter is euthanized, but it is even harder to tolerate when the really awesome pets, the ones who would make a good companion for almost anyone in a good situation, when they are also dying needlessly. Fortunately, this is a problem that has a solution. Unfortunately, there are far too many pet owners out there not participating in the solution, and the result is too many great animals needing homes and not enough homes."

That solution, according to Bahleda, is spaying and neutering.

"If everyone in the High Country with companion animals would just pledge to have their pets spayed and neutered in 2013, we could end this problem right now, this year. There are even low-cost, affordable spay and neuter opportunities offered to all High Country residents, but unfortunately, sometimes information about these services doesn't get to the folks who need it most."

With that end in mind, Bahleda is also working in conjunction with the Watauga Humane Society to increase and expand low-cost spay and neuter opportunities and awareness in the High Country. 

Bahleda and other local animal rescue personnel and organizations are currently placing billboards with contact information for low-cost spay and neuter programs across the region, beginning with three boards, two in Wilkes County and one in Watauga County. 


For  more information on low-cost spay and neuter options in the area, call the High Country Spay/Neuter Hotline at  (855) 259-SPAY.

For more information on the Mutt-i-gree Movement, visit

For more information on the North Shore Animal League America, visit