Dogs on a plane! Volunteers fly homeless pups to loving families
Wings of Rescue offers dogs a great ride (but asks that they keep their heads inside the window).
More than 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year because they live in overcrowded shelters. The problem is particularly acute in Southern California and several states in the Southeast. But in other areas like the Pacific Northwest and Canada, families are desperate for a good pet. Fortunately, there is the all-volunteer group, called Wings of Rescue, working to relocate loving pets to the families that want them.
Wings of Rescue transports unwanted animals from shelters in cities that cannot accommodate them to other parts of the country where they are in demand.
“Although Los Angeles is a huge city, we have a corresponding dog problem that is even bigger than the size of the city’s ability to absorb them,” says Wings of Rescue co-founder Yehuda Netanel, an Israeli living in Malibu, California.
“The vast majority of our animals are flying into shelters and rescue organizations that we know and trust, that are able to have those pets adopted within a matter of days because there is a shortage of those kind of animals there.”
Netanel followed his childhood dream to earn his private pilot’s license at the age of 33. He now has 3,000 hours in the air and owns an airplane.
The former Angel Flight volunteer told From the Grapevine that he started Wings of Rescue six years ago because he saw it as a simple solution to a major problem. “The solution was staring us in the face, it could be done, and after we started, we realized it was actually working and we should expand it,” he said.
In the first year, working virtually by himself, Netanel rescued 300 dogs. There are now 28 pilots who volunteer their time, airplane and fuel to help the cause, but Netanel wants to recruit 100 more.
Logistics coordinator Ric Browde says the biggest challenge for the organization is making sure the planes are neither overbooked nor underbooked. “We don’t want to leave any dogs on the ground, or go with a less-than-full plane.”
The animals have to be healthy to fly, and often dogs will fall off the list because of a failed health certificate. Other times a pet is adopted locally. “We never want to send a pet that has someplace to go as we can always get another one to take its place,” he says.
According to the Associated Press, it costs about $80 to fly each dog. “We could be saving three to four times as many animals at least if we had either more pilots or more money or a combination of the two,” says Netanel, who has opened up his own home to several animals over the years.
Wings of Rescue pilots fly anywhere between 100 to 1,000 animals per year. It depends on how much time they have to volunteer and the kind of aircraft they’re flying. But once a pilot joins Wings of Rescue, Netanel says, “It’s so addictive. It feels so good, they want to stay.”
Dudley the dog introduces himself on the tarmac. (Photo: Wings of Rescue)
One of his own most memorable flights was from Fresno, California, to Edmonton, Canada. He was flying 20 dogs, all of which had already been pre-adopted. When the plane landed in Canada, there were 20 excited families waiting to welcome their new family member. Each dog was announced as it entered the terminal, creating a huge rush of excitement.
“It was the most amazing homecoming celebration at the airport,” remembers Netanel.
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Related Topics: Animals