The HOPE Humane Society transport program has been growing since it began.

HOPE transport staff coordinate with shelters in Oregon, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri to transport local animals to find them with homes, according to a news release. As the program grows, HOPE anticipates coordinating with shelters in more areas of the country.

Amber Neal, director of transport for HOPE, said the program began late in 2017.

"We only started with like three shelters, and we're growing, so now we have at least eight partners that we work with generally on a monthly basis," Neal said.

Neal said Thursday the number of animals transported out of the shelter is growing as well. Forty cats and 272 dogs have been transported so far this year. HOPE Humane Society Executive Director Joe Sprague said HOPE transported 513 dogs and 18 cats in 2017. The organization has a goal to transport 2,000 dogs and 400 cats in 2018, the release states. 

The transport program has helped HOPE handle an increasing number of animals brought in by local residents and animal control officers, the release states. Sprague said while the shelter always encourages local adoptions, it is often crowded.

"The transport program has been incredibly effective for us to alleviate the number of animals in our shelter, while giving the animals a better chance to be adopted into loving homes,” Sprague said. “An individual dog or cat doesn’t much care whether it ends up in Chicago, Louisville, or Fort Smith — the most important goal for each animal we take in is to find them a loving forever home.”

HOPE uses a van to facilitate the transportation of animals to other shelters, Neal said. The shelter is looking to get another van. The organization also utilizes its mobile adoption unit when possible.

"Right now, I have seven people on my team, and that's taking care of medical, that's helping find foster homes, those are drivers and people that are also helping with paperwork," Neal said.

Although these people are not all volunteers, HOPE has a large volunteer base, as well as a foster base, that makes the transport program possible. When asked how residents can help with the transport program and what sort of people she is looking for to do so, Neal said the organization is looking for animal lovers.

"So the degree of how they help can be being a donor," Neal said. "It can be helping set up fundraisers for the transport program. It can be a volunteer basis coming to help us clean out kennels and loading up and walking dogs. It can be, you know, volunteer drivers, and, you know, sharing stuff on Facebook."

Neal said fosters, people who take an animal home on a temporary basis so it stays healthy, and volunteers who can help HOPE getting animals to a veterinarian when necessary, are also a big help. Those looking to volunteer can call Neal at the shelter at (479) 783-4395 or email her at ambern@hopehumanesociety.com.