On a Thursday in mid-November, Kelli Eaves and Whitney Fang loaded up their van and set out across the country. Driving through the night, they left Dallas, Texas, for Brooklyn, New York. This wasn’t an average road trip, and that’s not just because we’re in the midst of a pandemic. The duo was transporting 27 rescue dogs who all had foster homes waiting for them in the borough. Two of the dogs — affectionately named Miley Cyrus and Post Malone — would end up in the care of Rolling Stone staff as part of PMC’S 2% Foundation initiative to support employee charitable giving, just in time for Thanksgiving (and Giving Tuesday).
Fang has made this trip before, as part of the organization Hearts and Bones, which she co-founded with Anna Blumberg. Hearts and Bones is a foster-based dog rescue located in Dallas, Texas, and New York City. It was founded in 2017 in order to save dogs from some of the nation’s most overcrowded and underserved shelters. While there is no mistaking that there are animals in need all over the country, Texas finds itself in a uniquely dire situation, with too many strays and not enough forever homes willing to take them in. In 2019, almost 700,000 animals entered Texas shelters. However, Texas has one of the highest euthanasia rates for shelter animals in the country, and almost 100,000 of those same shelter dogs did not live to find homes outside of the shelters.
It’s not that shelters are being needlessly cruel; They too are in crisis. On a given day, the shelters surrounding Hearts and Bones’ Dallas base reportedly take in 100 new animals. After witnessing how the system was ceaselessly overwhelmed during their own volunteer work, founders Fang and Blumberg found a way to redistribute the burden. Just because there wasn’t room in Texas for the animals didn’t mean there weren’t other areas in the country where people could house them.
Miley, a three-year-old mixed-breed dog, and Post, a four-month-old mixed-breed puppy, originally came to Texas from Louisiana. The SPCA of Texas, for which Eaves serves as the Director of Lifesaving, found the dogs in the aftermath of a hurricane in an effort to aid in the disaster relief. Miley and Post, plus 25 other dogs who went through the same situation, spent a month in the SPCA of Texas before Hearts and Bones selected them as good candidates for making the trek to New York. For Blumberg, there’s no feeling quite like welcoming the dogs into the city on what those art Hearts and Bones call “transport days.” Fully equipped in masks and standing six feet apart, the volunteers who meet the van are always prepared to accept the dogs – no matter the state they’re in.
“Some of them are scared and they need some reassurance, and some of them come out tails wagging, ready to go, and full of energy,” Blumberg says of the foster dogs. “Some of them are shaking and nervous. You get to tell them everything’s going to be OK.”
Like most of the northeast region, New York has more people that want to adopt than dogs that enter the local shelter system. That’s what makes it the ideal foster location for the Hearts and Bones rescue dogs. Once the organization transports dogs to the city and places them in foster homes, forever families are typically found within one to two weeks. Though making the transition from Texas to New York takes (a lot more than) the extra mile, it’s Hearts and Bone’s commitment to bringing the dogs where they are so badly wanted that sets them apart from other rescue organizations that work within the constraints of one specific locale. While the coronavirus pandemic presented its challenges in terms of making sure all of Hearts and Bones’ operations were adhering to social distancing guidelines (families have been meeting their prospective pups over zoom), the organization actually saw a dramatic increase in demand for adoptions in New York.
“A lot of people previously couldn’t fit a dog into their lifestyle because they were working a lot or they had a busy social life,” Blumberg says. “But now they have the opportunity to open their home to a dog.”
Over 1,000 dogs have been rescued by Hearts and Bones this year, which is nearly double the amount that they were able to save in 2019. As we near the end of the year, demand hasn’t let up. Blumberg has some theories as to why.
“Covid has been a really isolating experience. Some people are living alone right now, or not leaving the apartment,” she says. “I think that the companionship of a dog is so crucial for people right now. You have to leave the apartment three times a day to walk the dog, you have to get out and exercise, and it puts you on a schedule.”
For its founders, the rampant growth of Hearts and Bones still feels surreal. It was only three years ago that the organization was a two-woman operation with Fang boarding planes with just a few dogs they had worked hard to save. Now, Fang, Blumberg, and their team of volunteers are celebrating the launch of their new Rescue Ranch: Five acres of land in Blue Ridge, Texas, equipped with three buildings to house dogs, plus communal play areas. The ranch will serve as a place where shelter dogs can decompress after they’ve been rescued and await their transfer to the big city. This also gives Hearts and Bones’ volunteers more time to arrange the best possible foster matches for the dogs, waiting patiently in New York. At its full capacity, the ranch will be able to house 50 dogs, drastically increasing the organization’s intake. Typically, it’s common for cohorts of rescues to be about 25 dogs. The addition of the Rescue Ranch will also free up more space in the local shelters as they continue to grapple with a steady surplus of stray and unwanted dogs.
“It’s a huge undertaking that comes with a lot of expenses,” Blumberg says, but it’s an undertaking that will be worth it in the long term. The organization is hopeful that over the course of 2021, it will be able to care for 1,000 dogs at the facility. Thanks to the organization’s cross-country network of supporters, Blumberg is confident they can meet their goal. “It’s our community of amazing dog lovers that have made this happen.”
It’s a community that’s always welcoming new members, especially leading up to this year’s Giving Tuesday. If you are in the Dallas, Texas or New York area, you can get involved through volunteering, fostering, or adopting. But even if you’re far away from the organization’s two base camps, you can still be a part of the rescue dogs’ stories by donating to Hearts and Bones.