Cathi Eagan and a group of dedicated volunteers spent more than a decade regularly loading five vans with dogs from south-central Indiana and delivering them to various shelters more than 1,000 miles away in New England.
Then a couple of years ago, the number of available dogs had dried up enough that the CanINE Express Transport Project crew was down to just one van per trip. Today they are making much shorter trips to Cleveland, Rock Falls, Illinois, and local stops in Valparaiso.
What changed is that while the group was busy driving all those years, efforts were underway back home to replicate the same level of spaying and neutering that relieved pet overpopulation on the East Coast, said Eagan, of Nashville, Indiana.
Indiana now hopes to add to that success with a requirement that by 2021, all shelters and rescues in Indiana spay and neuter cats and dogs before adopting them out to, according to Vicki Deisner, Midwest legislative director with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"This is a huge victory," she said.
The 40 counties around the state that responded to a survey reported that pet overpopulation at their shelters was costing them $16.2 million annually, Deisner said. The impact statewide is estimated at $37 million.
State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, who co-authored the legislation, said the change came after a seven-year struggle that was drawn out as a result of struggles with the state's powerful animal agriculture interests.
The new legislation will save the lives of dogs and cats by reducing their numbers, which will mean fewer strays being euthanized, or otherwise injured or killed while out on their own, Lawson said.
Local units of government also will save money as the number of homeless animals and associated costs shrink, she said.
The LaPorte County Animal Shelter already is spaying and neutering its animals on site, according to Executive Director Jane Bernard.
One of the shelter's veterinarians, Dr. Patrick Dorroh, said while the changes were approved with good intentions, he hopes they can be modified to allow a delay in spaying and neutering of young dogs.
There is evidence that neutering a dog too young can increase their chances later for certain types of cancers, arthritis and leg injuries, he said.
The Porter County Animal Shelter has been spaying and neutering all animals before they leave for the past two years, according to Director Toni Bianchi.
"I believe the new law is a very progressive step in the right direction to control the overpopulation of dogs and cats," she said.
But Bianchi said the requirement could be a hardship for shelters with fewer resources.
Officials with the Lake County Sheriff's Animal Adoption & Control Center could not be reached for this story.
The state already is offering shelters and rescues limited help with spay and neuter costs using proceeds from its Pet Friendly license plates, which are the second most popular plates, said Cheri Storms, executive director of the nonprofit Spay-Neuter Services of Indiana.
The group, which manages the license plate money, has watched the proceeds from the plates grow to $465,000 last year, she said. The groups receive $25 for each plate.
Shelters receive up to 10 vouchers each year for spay and neuter services provided by 130 participating veterinarians and low-cost clinics, Storms said. The group also funds cat trap-neuter-return programs, and spay and neuter assistance to low-income individuals.
The efforts resulted in 13,914 surgeries statewide on dogs and cats last year.
The demand for all these services is already more than the available resources. That can change with increased plate sales, donations and concerned individuals helping address the problem locally by volunteering at shelters, she said.
"Ultimately," Storms said, "we would love to receive state funding."