JARRELL, Texas – The stench of diesel starts this day before dawn.
"We're not even close to half way into the journey," said Greg Mahle (pronounced MAY-lee), as he walked out of the Flying J Truck Stop holding a cup of coffee.
Interstate 35 is a familiar road for him.
"I make this trip every other week — 25 times a year," he said.
He drives from Ohio to Texas to New York — more than 3,800 miles a week — to save stray dogs. He calls the non-profit Rescue Road Trips.
"Well, she's going to New Jersey," said Betty Kroeger, with the City of Lytle Animal Control, while holding a terrier mix named Delaney. "She started out as a little street dog -– someone just found her."
Mahle has changed the way animal control operates in her small town, south of San Antonio.
"He has made a lot less dark days at our facility, because we no longer and have not for quite a while euthanized for space," she said. "We don't worry about that anymore."
Kroeger filled an empty van with crates and drove two hours with a Chow, a puppy named Jared, and Davey, which is her 100th delivery.
"We have gotten the best pictures of our dogs playing in snow," she continued. "We have a dog that's living on Central Park West."
These pets have real rags-to-riches stories.
People find the dogs on Petfinder.com, reach out to the Texas shelter to adopt them, and then arrange for Mahle to pick them up and drive them north.
Mahle charges a flat fee of $185, no matter the size of the dog, to take them on their rescue road trip.
"A short while ago, all of these dogs were someone's trash. They were thrown out. They were abandoned. They've been abused," he said.
Mahle drives between 80-and-120 dogs on every trip, and admits while saving these lives, his effort barely makes a dent in the larger problem.
Northern states have stronger spay-and-neuter laws, which result in fewer strays.
"There just aren't enough homes in Houston. We have so many stray dogs and dogs without homes. Up there, it's just a different culture," said Darci Davenport, with Peace Love Dogs Rescue. "It's not so throw-away."
This is hardly a money-making operation. Mahle's truck and trailer are both old and need to be replaced.
Greg said he used to run restaurants in his home of Zanesville, Ohio, but decided to cash out and invest all of his life savings into this non-profit operation.
"The financial situation is week-to-week," he explained. "You try to get by this week, and hope to get by next week. And you're doing all of this for the love the dogs."
Greg sleeps in the trailer with the dogs. He has an employee who helps split some of the driving with him, and takes the bunk on the rig.
In the last ten years, Mahle said he figures he has saved more than 30,000 little lives. He's taken them on a freedom ride, determined to make a difference rather than a dollar.