As his odometer clicked over 50,000 miles for the year, Bryan Hayes, Warehouse and Transport Fleet Manager for the ASPCA, was driving through the Midwest with his last animal transport of 2017. But much more significant than hitting that milestone was the fact that one of these rescued animals would soon change his life forever.
A member of the ASPCA’s Disaster Response team, Bryan and his colleagues, along with responders from the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response (FIR) team, worked through an intensely busy fall season, assisting animals in three back-to-back hurricanes, as well as wildfires in California. Their mission: Relocating animals displaced by the disasters to shelters across the country where they would be put up for adoption and hopefully find safe, loving homes.
On this end-of-year journey, Bryan was moving 54 animals from the Humane Society of Broward County in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to shelters in more than a dozen states including the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha. But one animal in particular—a dog now named Winnie—was already matched with her new pet parent: Bryan himself.
A stray Wheaten Terrier-mix, Winnie was found living on streets on the island of St. Croix with her five puppies when she was rescued on November 11, following Hurricane Maria. Her coat was so overgrown that rescuers named her “Itt”—after the hair-covered cousin of Gomez Addams on the 1960’s TV series The Addams Family. Her pups were also named after other Addams characters!
Winnie and her puppies at the ASPCA’s temporary shelter in St. Croix, following their rescue.
At the ASPCA’s temporary shelter established on the island in the aftermath of the storm, shelter workers cut the matting from her coat, and a month later, Winnie and her puppies were airlifted to Florida, where Bryan first caught sight of her.
“As she came off the plane, I said, ‘Oh my God, look at that dog! That face!’” Bryan remembers. “I knew I wanted to adopt her.”
“It was love at first sight,” adds Barb Davis, a long-time ASPCA responder who off-loaded Winnie from the airplane. “When Bryan saw her come off the plane, he was smitten.”
On the transport to Omaha, Bryan reports that Winnie was calm and quiet. “She couldn’t have been sweeter,” he says. As soon as they arrived at the Nebraska Humane Society, he made the adoption official. He gave Winnie a bath in his hotel room, and the next morning, she took a seat up front in the cab of his vehicle.
After Bryan adopted Winnie, she joined him in the cab of his vehicle. “She went from coach to first class,” Bryan jokes.
The timing of Winnie’s adoption turned out to be serendipitous for Bryan and his family. While Bryan was on the road, his wife Kay called to say that sadly, their dog Trey, a Labrador-mix they’d had since he was a puppy, was in kidney failure and had to be euthanized.
From Nebraska, Bryan—who logged more than 8,000 miles over 16 days in December—headed home to Missouri, stopping first to visit his daughter Cami and her fiancé and introduce them to Winnie. It was one of Hayes’ grandsons who gave Winnie her name, inspired by Winnie the Pooh.
After transporting Winnie from Ft. Lauderdale to Omaha, Bryan removed her from his transport vehicle.
While Winnie’s new home is all a dog could ever dream of, she is still recovering from her scrappy former life. She completed two weeks of antibiotics and is heartworm positive, a condition that will require treatment after she is spayed. She also received a new, professional cut by a groomer.
Winnie at home, sporting a professional groom.
In his six years at the ASPCA, Bryan has driven thousands of animals toward new destinies, but Winnie is his first adoption from a transport.
“I think about what she’s gone through in her short life,” he reflects. “Her previous existence was scrounging for food. She didn’t know how to play— not with toys or anything. She was in survival mode 24/7.”
Now, that’s all changing, as Winnie gets used to her new housemates, including Petey, another dog, and Dipsy, a cat. She’s learning her name and will be starting obedience classes in February.
“She’s smart and a fast learner; I think she’ll do well,” says Bryan, proudly. The two now share a strong bond – you could even say they’re driven to each other.