Idaho Statesman: Truck drivers with Operation Roger make sure dogs, other pets get to loving homes

By Katy Moeller

Brad Miller is a trucker who hauls steel for Ryerson between Salt Lake and Seattle.

The 59-year-old, who lives in Kaysville, Utah, made a special delivery early Tuesday morning in Boise: A floppy-eared black dog.

The cocker spaniel puppy, named Vegeta (named for an anime character), was transported from Louisiana to Idaho by a series of truckers, including Miller, who are volunteers with Operation Roger. The dog’s owner — Army Specialist Aaron McGehee at Fort Polk — wasn’t able to keep his little buddy, so he needed to get the dog out to his family’s house in Payette.

The McGehees heard about Operation Roger from Reme Maple, owner of Tea Leaves- N-Coffee Beans in Cascade. Maple had a couple of dogs moved through the volunteer service. There is a $35 application fee, but the transport is free.

Since 2005, about 850 dogs and other pets — including cats, hamsters and spiders — have been transported by the truckers to new homes, according to a spokeswoman for the group. The volunteer network of 30 drivers was created after Hurricane Katrina, when a driver who lost her dog, Roger, wanted to help the New Orleans community and move neglected or abandoned dogs to loving homes.

Miller said he got involved after hearing about it on the radio. He claimed his wife is the real animal lover (she’s a “crazy cat lady,” he said, and they have also own two dogs and four chickens), but he wanted to help animals that need a lift to get to new or better homes.

He once transported a 200-pound Bullmastiff. To accommodate that dog, Miller had to remove the passenger seat from his truck and build a ramp, recalled Dan Wylie, who operates Ryerson’s Boise warehouse. Miller used cheese to coax that dog — who wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy — into his truck.

Miller can’t remember how many years he’s been taking Operation Roger pets as co-pilots, but he guesses as many as seven or eight. He said the transports are sporadic, and he might do several in a month and then not get another for weeks.

“I think I like these animals a whole lot more than I like most people,” he said. The transport experience can be a pretty terrifying for many animals.

“All they do is shake and shed,” Miller said, adding that they do seem to adapt fairly quickly. “Within 24 hours, they’ve taken possession of the truck.”

Many sleep in crates or dog beds, or they find nooks in the truck to curl up in. Some dogs like to stick their heads out of the window, or at least press their noses up against it.

Miller picked up Vegeta from another trucker who stopped near Salt Lake City; the other trucker was headed south, and Miller was going north. The dog spent Sunday night at Miller’s house. The curious puppy had a good time chasing around his chickens.

“I guess he’d never seen chickens before,” Miller said.

Vegeta curled up in Miller’s lap as he drove Monday night. Miller said he didn’t know much about the dog, or his back story. He said he prefers it that way.

“You can get attached to them,” said Miller, who has a Rottweiler and black lab at home. “You get to the receiver, and you’re like, hmmm, I don’t want to give them to you. It’s real hard.”

Sporting an Operation Roger T-shirt Tuesday morning, Miller looked pleased when he handed the puppy over to Shelly McGehee outside Ryerson’s warehouse in southeast Boise.

The puppy, who was traveling for over a month, licked everyone in sight — then set off to his new home in Payette.