LOS ANGELES -- The X on this animal lovers' treasure map could be Spot or Rex or Rover.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently launched a program that maps out animal shelters with a dearth of dogs and shelters that have too many. The first national program of its kind, MAP, which stands for Moving Animals Places, 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 online database started in July, 347 shelters in 47 states and Puerto Rico have signed on.
Early estimates show at least 362 dogs and 12 cats have been moved through MAP. However, it will be spring before exact numbers are known because not all the moves have been reported, said Sandy Monterose, senior director of ASPCA community initiatives, including the Animal Relocation and Transport team, which created and runs MAP.
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 through grants and donations.
Monterose says relocating animals from overcrowded shelters to those where adoption demand is high saves those pets from euthanasia and allows new dogs and cats in need of loving homes to be accepted at the freed-up facilities.
Any municipal shelter, nonprofit rescue or animal control department can join MAP by filling out a questionnaire about animal health, vaccinations, spay and neuter policies, transport equipment -- things other shelters would need to know before creating a partnership.
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 adhere to strict rules governing the transport of dogs and cats.
Moving animals isn't new, but the scale of the program is. Greyhound rescue groups did some of the earliest known relocation work, finding new homes for dogs after racetracks closed around the country in the 1980s. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rescue groups came together to handle all the unclaimed and displaced pets.
MAP was born as the ASPCA fielded inquiries 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?"
Corporate donors allow the ASPCA transport team to issue grants that help with relocation efforts.
Subaru donated $100,000 from its "Share the Love" campaign last year. Twenty animal welfare groups used that money to transport more than 1,300 animals in what were dubbed "Rescue Rides."
In the last part of the year, some of those rides were arranged by MAP members.
The last Rescue Ride of 2013 took place in mid-December when the GoNorth Transport Collaborative in Tennessee partnered with St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J.
Twenty-eight puppies and 17 adult dogs were transported to St. Hubert's after University of Tennessee veterinary students fostered and prepared them for the trip. Although a swap isn't necessary, St. Hubert's president Heather Cammisa said that in return, the New Jersey shelter would send some of the adoption proceeds to Tennessee to fund spay and neuter programs.
Nearly all the dogs were adopted, as were several already at St. Hubert's.
Receiving shelters usually place all the imported dogs, along with many of their own, Cammisa said. The shelter will send out newsletters and do public service spots about arriving animals.
St. Hubert's placed 131 animals in the seven days after the dogs arrived. That includes nearly 90 dogs, cats, bunnies and hamsters that were already at the shelter. During an average week in December, the shelter would place 60 to 70 animals, Cammisa said, or about half the total from that week.
One of the last Tennessee pooches to find a home was a 5-year-old female poodle-terrier mix. Mary Anne and Charles Saunders of Union, N.J., took her home and changed her name from Lisa to 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 said. "We feel lucky to have her. ... She is making our home happier, and I hope we are making her home happier."