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'Dixie dogs' head north

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"This idea of an underground railroad for dogs poses certain problems," says Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. "I'm not really so sure how humane the whole thing is."

Begun in the human and animal tragedy of hurricane Katrina, and fueled by the saga of Michael Vick (the pro football player convicted of running a dog-fighting ring) and its references to the sometimes brutal rituals that shade Southern backwoods culture, the dog trade across the Mason-Dixon Line today is brisk. Some estimate 90 percent of adopted dogs in the Northeast come from the South. One shelter, in Stratham, N.H., began taking out-of-state transfers in 2005 and moved 289 dogs. Last year it imported nearly 900, many from Alabama.

"They don't have puppies up in the Northeast, and there aren't a lot of family-friendly dogs, so they like to take the Labs and the dogs that we have an abundance of down here," says Michelle Humphries, the director of the Georgia Humane Society in Atlanta, which sends about 600 dogs a year to shelters in the North. "If we had enough volunteers, we could keep our van on the road pretty much all month long."

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