54 Dogs Take Their Flight to Freedom
June 26, 2014
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  • Taken from the crowded confines of the public shelter system, 54 dogs boarded a private jet in Palm Springs on Saturday as they headed to their new homes at no-kill shelters in Idaho and Washington state.

    In partnership with Wings of Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue out of Van Nuys, nearly 50 volunteers from Animal Samaritans, Coachella Valley Animal Campus and the Riverside County Animal Shelter helped prepare for the flight with homeless Chihuahuas, terriers, dachshund mixes and shepherd mixes from RCAS in Thousand Palms.

    Michelle Bergeron, the adoptions alliance rescue supervisor for Animal Samaritans, said the event was a big success, but wasn’t without a few hiccups.

    “Two pups had grown a bit too much and just couldn’t fit onto the plane, so they didn’t get to fly. But my fantastic assistant coordinator, Jennifer Uberti, had already found a rescue for them in Menifee before we’d even left the airport,” Bergeron said. “They left for Menifee on Monday via one of our volunteer transport ‘Highway Heroes.’”

    In their first three years of rescuing animals from neighboring shelters, Animal Samaritans has rescued more than 5,000 animals a milestone they reached in March, according to Tom Snyder, director of marketing and public relations. This was the first time the nonprofit partnered with Wings of Rescue, which helped them dramatically increase the number of rescues. On average, Animal Samaritans could previously transport seven dogs via plane.

    “We’ve done a few smaller flights to Canada, but this was definitely our first large flight,” Bergeron said. “It came down to what they had the space for – and we were more than happy to accommodate them.”

    Bergeron, a Desert Hot Springs resident, answered a few questions via email about the Wings of Rescue flight and her experience with Animal Samaritans.

    Q. Did you actually ride on the planes with the dogs?

    A. Sadly, no. I don’t think there was any room for the two-legged riders besides the pilot. The rescued dogs got priority seating.

    Q. What is it like during the flight? How do the dogs respond?

    A. They tend to be a little restless at first, from what I hear. We tried to walk as many of them as possible before the flight so that they were a little tired out. But one of the pilots told me once they are in the air, they tend to go right to sleep.

    Q. How do the dogs respond when they reach their destination?

    A. I am sure their arrival doesn’t come without some anxiety. After all, we can’t exactly tell them what’s going on. All they know is they’ve been handed from person to person the past few days and suddenly they are in a totally different climate and probably thinking, “How did I get here?” But they tend to acclimate pretty quickly. Volunteers with the no-kill shelters on the other end meet them at the airport and get to see their new four-legged friends, and do a proper greeting before taking them back to their new temporary digs until they find their forever home.

    Q. Do they have a hard time leaving the volunteers they are familiar with?

    A. For the most part, most of the volunteers were not daily volunteers at the shelter that tend to be the ones walking dogs and things like that, so for some of them, they met these dogs for the first time that day as well. But they certainly seemed to know good things were happening – every single one of them was bouncing with happiness that morning.