An animal rescue shelter in Murphysboro is seeking donations to replace a van and dozens of transport crates that were destroyed after the van was hit by another vehicle on Dec. 17.
The collision, at Route 13 and Country Club Road, killed a puppy and kitten and shattered the transport crates, leading to the escape of several of the animals, most of which were recovered.
The 45 animals were being taken from Wright-Way Rescue's Murphysboro facility to its shelter in Morton Grove, where they had adoptive families waiting for them, said Christy Anderson, founder and executive director of both shelters.
Anderson said the shelter is fundraising for the new transport van, a critical need both for the facility and the animals under its care.
"The longer we are without a vehicle, the more animals are not going to be saved," she said.
The shelter said at least 60 of the transport crates were destroyed. Crates cost anywhere from $35 to $200 new.
The van is expected to cost $35,000 to $40,000.
There will also be large medical bills for the treatment of one dog that was in critical condition from the crash.
Rochelle Michalek, director of operations for the Morton Grove location, said the majority of Murphysboro animals are rescued from rural Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas.
"And, we provide a lot of support to southern Illinois," she added. "These are the areas that have no spay/neuter resources."
Recalling the events of Dec. 17, Anderson said a regularly scheduled transport of 45 animals that had been prepared for adoption -- many with homes already waiting for them -- began what was expected to be a routine journey at about 6 a.m.
"We do these transports at least twice a week," she said. "Essentially, what we do is we rescue the animals from throughout rural America," where, she said, there are not a lot of resources for homeless animals.
They are prepared for adoption at its Admissions and Medical Services Campus at 8459 Old Highway 13 in Murphysboro. Once veterinarians clear the animals for adoption, they are then ready to be sent to the Morton Grove facility at 5915 Lincoln Ave.
"During this time, we are advertising for homes for them and lining those homes up. When they are ready, we transport them."
But what began as a normal transport ended with a tragic result. The driver was just a few miles away from the Murphysboro facility at Route 13 and Country Club Road when it was broadsided by a car that blew through the red light, she said.
The van's driver was treated for minor injuries, and two occupants of the car were hospitalized.
As for the animals, Anderson said, "We use airline approved transport crates. The impact was so severe that it actually shattered the vast majority of the crates. I have never seen anything like it.
"And so, there were many animals loose within the vehicle. Some of them started escaping before emergency personnel even arrived."
Eight of the 45 animals being transported got out of the van both before first responders arrived, as well as after, when they had to cut the vehicle apart to get inside the back area containing the animals.
The escapees included young puppies and a pregnant dog who was close to delivery.
Seeking the missing eight animals, the facility put out a plea on Facebook, asking for volunteers to help in the search. Hundreds of volunteers responded to the call to action.
"It was truly inspiring to see so many people come out in the community, many of which we had never met before," she said.
By the end of the day, all of the dogs were found, she said.
Michalek said two kittens are still unaccounted for, but people in the Murphysboro area are still looking for them.
Most of the animals involved in the traumatic journey have arrived at their destination in Morton Grove and many of them have already been adopted. With the van destroyed, a U-Haul was rented to finish the transport.
"A couple others with some injuries are just waiting to be cleared by our vets," Anderson said. The injured animals suffered mainly from lacerations and bruises.
"It was pretty horrific," she said. "But despite that, the animals are doing fairly well."