To save a thousand dogs, you have to do a lot of driving. That’s why Connie and David Guthrie have been running a virtual shuttle between Sequoia County, Okla., and Northern Illinois.

For most of the past two years, they’ve been loading up their van with stray dogs and puppies they’ve picked up, either wandering loose or from police officers bringing them into the pound, then driving to shelters like Animal Care League in Oak Park — and they’re doing it twice a week, a total of about 7,000 miles.

“They’re really going at it,” says Tom Van Winkle, executive director of ACL.

In May 2009, the Guthries put out a call for help to shelters around the country. TAILS Humane Society in DeKalb was the first in this area to respond, and they recruited ACL in Oak Park and the Naperville Area Humane Society.

Southern states have a significant dog overpopulation problem, Van Winkle says, and they don’t have enough shelters to facilitate adoption. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, has the shelters and the suburbs aren’t overrun by strays.

“The South has high-volume animal control facilities,” Van Winkle says. “They euthanize dogs by the thousands.”

The Guthries are “nice, down-to-earth folks,” says Van Winkle, “who have the time and the financial resources.”

And they have a cause: Save Our Strays (SOS). To call attention to the effort, they will hold an adoption event, sponsored by Petco, at Brookfield Zoo, Oct. 2-3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to announce the adoption of their thousandth Oklahoma dog.

ACL has thus far taken in about 30 dogs from the Guthries. They also take dogs from shelters in Chicago, which has an overpopulation problem. When dogs are brought in, ACL’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Lori Decker, checks and treats them for heartworm, then volunteers work with the dogs for a couple of days, assessing their behavior, helping them get acclimated, doing a little obedience training and generally determining whether they would be a good match, for instance, for a family with small children.

“We try to get a feel for what we’re working with,” says Van Winkle. Oak Parkers have been very good about adopting strays, he adds, but so have residents from surrounding suburbs. ACL is one of the few “brick-and-mortar” shelters in the near suburbs.

ACL, which has existed in Oak Park since 1973, has been located at 1011 Garfield St. since the late 1990s. In 2007, they purchased the building next door and expanded their capacity. Van Winkle has headed the organization for the past five years.

He says they accept dogs from the Guthries whenever they have room. “If they’re healthy and adoptable,” he says, “we take them. A life is a life.”

This weekend’s event at Brookfield Zoo will allow interested dog lovers to adopt on site (and on sight). Some of the dogs will come from ACL.

When the thousandth dog has been transferred, a big fuss will be made. According to Angie Wood, director of the Naperville Area Humane Society, “We’re not going to publicize who the 1,000th dog is until after he or she is adopted. That way we’ll be assured the adopter is adopting for the right reasons, rather than because of the celebrity effect.”

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