The animals at overcrowded shelters no longer have to push their way to the front of the pack, hoping to get noticed. Instead, they might hop on a plane.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recently launched a program that connects animal shelters that don’t have enough dogs with shelters that have too many. The first national program of its kind allows shelters to contact one another and work out moves that will put pets in places where they are more likely to be adopted.

Since the free database started in July, 347 shelters in 47 states and Puerto Rico have signed up.

Early estimates show at least 362 dogs and 12 cats have been moved through Moving Animals Places (MAP), said Sandy Monterose of the ASPCA.

The MAP database is just one of the many tools the relocation team uses to help shelters ease overcrowding, enhance adoptions and save lives. Each year, the team moves tens of thousands of animals to different shelters, many of them paid for by grants and donations.

Monterose says relocating animals from overcrowded shelters to those where adoption demand is high saves those pets from being put to sleep.

Shelters work to ensure animals don’t get sick or anxious during moves with vet checks at both ends, proper crating for safety, plenty of volunteers to tend to the animals and potty, food and exercise stops along the way. The shelters must follow strict rules on the transport of dogs and cats.

Moving animals isn’t new, but the size of the program is. MAP was born as the ASPCA received calls from overcrowded shelters seeking facilities with open kennels or help connecting with a partner.

“It is a supply-and-demand issue,” Monterose said. “If you had a store and you had extra widgets at one store, and people were buying up widgets at another store, wouldn’t you move your widgets?”

In December, the GoNorth Transport Collaborative in Tennessee sent 28 puppies and 17 adult dogs to St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey.

St. Hubert’s placed 131 animals in the seven days after the dogs arrived, said Heather Cammisa, the organization’s president. That includes nearly 90 dogs, cats, bunnies and hamsters that already lived at the shelter. During an average week in December, the shelter would place 60 to 70 animals, Cammisa said.

One of the Tennessee pooches to find a home was a 5-year-old female poodle-terrier mix. Mary Anne and Charles Saunders of Union, New Jersey, took her home and named her Josie.

All the couple knows about the 15-pound dog is that “she was picked up as a stray and taken to the shelter, where she probably wouldn’t have survived,” Mary Anne Saunders said.

“My goal is to give her a good future, to give her the best chance she’s got,” she added. “We feel lucky to have her. . . . She is making our home happier, and I hope we are making her home happier.”

Associated Press