Volunteer drivers from the Ford County Humane Society load shelter animals into a van for a trip to Colorado rescues every week.

They always have a full load - sometimes they need two vans.

Toni Myers founded the non-profit shelter 25 years ago and still serves as its president. While thankful to have options for caring, licensed foster and rescue groups in Colorado and other western states, Myers is astonished by the sheer number of animals that continue to come through the system.

According to Myers, the Humane Society processes more than 1,500 animals every year. Every trip to Colorado includes at least 20 animals.

"Dodge City has a problem," Myers said. "It amazes me that I can take 1,500 animals from Dodge City Animal Shelter, and the next year I still take 1,500 animals."

Myers said she feels there is not enough education in the public about sterilization and pet over-population. She said much of the issue also boils down to people simply not being fully committed to the pets - often treating innocent animals as disposable playthings.

"People who are irresponsible pet owners continue the problem," Myers said. "They let their dog run around loose and if their dog ends up in the city shelter, they just get another one and the cycle goes on. Or their children want a puppy but now it's gotten big and nobody wants to take care of it, so they just put it outside."

To help alleviate the continual onslaught of homeless pets, Myers said she plans to petition the city commission for an ordinance requiring every animal that goes through the city shelter to be spayed or neutered prior to leaving - even if the pet is picked up by the actual owner.

The Humane Society essentially serves as a holding facility for animals that come through the Dodge City Animal Shelter. Animals that are adoptable and are not terminally ill or dangerous get "spoken for" by Myers or another worker from the Humane Society, and then the group takes over for the animal.

Over the last eight years Myers has developed a large, informal network of rescue groups, foster shelters, and concerned individuals in the Denver area that have their own networks - ensuring as big an array of options as possible for pets who may otherwise be euthanized.

The Ford County Humane Society takes animals from all over the area, often meeting with other advocacy groups in Garden City to coordinate trips and take additional animals.

Myers pointed out that animals taken out of state are placed in the care of groups that must follow stringent guidelines and are under extensive government oversight. Rescue organizations and foster homes the Humane Society deals with in Colorado are all certified under the Colorado Pet Animal Care Facilities Act.

Like Kansas shelters, the Colorado state agriculture department regulates the transport and housing of shelter animals. Myers said regulations require the Humane Society to coordinate the foster and adoption process with only licensed groups.

The persistent level in unclaimed dogs is tenuously balanced with a steady demand for shelter pets. Myers said that many of the animals go initially to foster placements throughout Colorado, but some go to adoption centers in Golden or Fort Collins. The booming population of the Colorado Front Range means a supply of adoptive families.

"They have such heavy foot traffic that dogs go quickly," Myers said. "I can send dogs on Tuesday and by Thursday 90 percent of them are adopted."

Some pets show up with medical problems that the Humane Society works diligently to help overcome and be able to move the animal into a home.

Maribel is a 10-year-old pit bull who arrived at the shelter six months ago with a massive tumor on her belly. The Humane Society paid to have the tumor removed and allowed Maribel time to heal. Now recovered, the affectionate pet displays the playful energy of an animal half her age.

Another dog at the shelter was brought in after its owner had poured some sort of acid along the dog's back. The Society paid to have the open wounds treated, and volunteers performed extensive water therapy to help recovery. Skin and bones when it came in, the dog now weighs almost 90 pounds.

The Humane Society receives some small grants to continue operations, but the bulk of its funding comes from private donations. Myers said that the medical expenses for sick animals or extra hassles accompanying dog breeds such as pit bulls are worthwhile if the Society can keep animals from being put down.

"We do everything we can to get them to the best places where they'll be adopted by good people," Myers said. "We don't tell people it was a $600 surgery, so we'll need that from them. I'm just glad to have somebody to take her."

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com