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Southern dogs move north

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On a sunny September afternoon, a reunion is being held in Sterling, about 30 miles west of Boston. But these aren't middle-aged high school alumni swapping tales of school days. Instead, half of these attendees bark. Welcome to Homebound Hound Day at Animal Shelter Inc. Today, former strays will become reacquainted with the people who helped find them their new homes.

Decades ago, a prospective puppy owner might have been able to find a roadside sign advertising mutts available for adoption. But because of the success of spay-neuter programs in New England, those days are over.

As a result, area residents who are trying to find a young dog often have a frustrating experience.

The experience of Lorri Novotny of Nashua, N.H., is typical. "We looked ... all over the place, and we could not find any puppies," she says.

Yet while there's a shortage of puppies in Massachusetts, there's a glut of homeless canines in parts of Virginia.

There, some people claim that unspayed dogs are more effective hunters, and the number of unwanted puppies has traditionally been much larger than local citizens could adopt. As a result, puppies were routinely destroyed by town pounds.

This led a few creative animal advocates to ask the question: Why not relocate the puppies to areas where the demand exceeds the supply?

"It's a win-win situation for us," says Leigh Grady, director of Animal Shelter Inc. "We have a chance to place them in loving homes here in New England, and it helps [the Virginia shelters] alleviate some of their problems, as well."

Each Thursday about 6 a.m., a van leaves Virginia with 30 to 40 puppies.

"Everybody's in a cage, except every once in a while I do have [a puppy] riding shotgun, up front with me," says Lynda Conrad, treasurer of the Southside SPCA in Meherrin, Va., who is usually the driver. "It's very quiet - people find that hard to believe - but once they get in there and the air conditioning gets turned on, they just lie right down and go to sleep. "

About noon, the van will rendezvous in New Jersey with a vehicle that has traveled south from Massachusetts. It will take the puppies the rest of the way.

Once at the shelter, the puppies are neutered and then they go though a sort of canine assembly line.

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