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."
It's a dramatic shift in a country that has made huge strides in reducing the number of dogs euthanized in shelters, from 17 million in 1987 to about 4 million today. But it makes only more stark attitudes about dogs in the South, where shelters are still overcrowded – especially in springtime – with unwanted dogs and euthanization rates as high as 85 percent.
"I can get in my truck and drive in any single direction and find a skinny dog scrounging for food on the side of the road or puppies coming out from under a trailer," says the Mississippi novelist Ace Atkins, who helps run the Friends of Pete rescue group in Oxford.