Paul Johnston hopes the Wonderland Express makes folks smile—and inspires them to adopt a pet.
Posted in , Oct 25, 2021
Every time Paul Johnston of Lehigh Acres, Florida, starts up his lawnmower, 16 of his rescue dogs come running. They know what the sound means: a ride through the neighborhood on an eight-car homemade barrel train. With one dog in each car, half the crew will have to wait for the next departure. Paul drives the lawnmower that pulls the train, and his wife, Alice, rides her bike behind the caboose to make sure that the dogs stay safe.
Neighbors watch the train drive by, taking videos and bringing their own dogs outside to see the spectacle. During the holiday season, Paul and Alice decorate the train with Christmas lights, turning it into the Wonderland Express.
But it’s the train’s year-round decorations that show the couple’s true motivation. Each car displays a slogan supporting pet adoption. “We hope seeing our train—and our dogs—will encourage people to provide a home to an animal who needs one,” Alice says. Messages on the train cars also remind people to spay and neuter their pets.
Years ago, when the Johnstons lived in Costa Rica, they were saddened to see the number of stray dogs wandering around, many of them sick or injured. “There was so much suffering,” Paul says. The couple wanted to help so they learned to give the dogs shots, clean their wounds and even set their broken bones. They opened their home to as many dogs as they could and found a vet who offered spay and neuter clinics.
Paul and Alice returned to the United States in 2014, bringing 19 dogs with them. They currently have 18, but that number is always changing. Walking that many pups is tricky, so Paul decided to build the train to give their pack more time out and about (two of the dogs prefer to stay home). With tongues lolling and happy barking for the duration of the ride, it’s pretty clear his passengers approve.
None of the Johnstons’ dogs are up for adoption—after all, they’re family—but Paul and Alice hope the Wonderland Express inspires people to open their homes to dogs that are available at local rescues.
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