Hundreds of shelter dogs, cats flown across the Pacific in historic rescue flight


HONOLULU (NewsNation Now) — Hundreds of dogs and cats from five overcrowded Hawaiian shelters are getting a second chance after one of the largest pet rescue flights in history.

More than 600 dogs and cats flew across the Pacific Ocean from the packed shelters to Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, where there’s more space for them to await adoption. After months of planning and help from multi-state charities, organizers said the Paws Across Pacific flight was the largest pet rescue flight ever, reported NewsNation affiliate KHON.

The furry friends arrived in Seattle Thursday on a chartered massive Hercules C-130 plane. The rescue flight was necessary because the coronavirus pandemic has led to overcrowding in Hawaii pet shelters, while many shelter animal transfer programs like Wings of Aloha based at Maui Humane Society were on pause for the last six months. Some owners are no longer able to afford their pets because of economic struggles caused by the pandemic

“While we have seen an increase in local adoptions, it’s not nearly enough to keep up with the intake that we’ve had at the shelter,” said Mirah Horowitz, the Kauai Humane Society Executive Director.

Wings of Rescue, another transfer program, and Greater Good Charities — both based in Seattle — came up with the perfect solution, the largest pet rescue flight in history.

“Lots of kittens,” said Douglas Carroll, spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which helped coordinate the effort.

Carroll watched Wednesday night as dozens of masked workers and volunteers loaded carriers of various sizes holding the animals into the plane in Honolulu.

“Making sure they’ve got their special ice water dishes, their special travel food, their special travel medicine, everything,” said Nikki Russel, Maui Humane Society’s director of community outreach.

“It’s complex, but you have to do it to pull off something so historic and momentous like this,” said Daniel Roselle, Hawaiian Humane Society’s director of community relations.

The flight started on Kauai and made stops at three different islands before departing for a seven-hour flight to Seattle, said Noah Horton, chief marketing officer of Greater Good Charities.

A veterinarian accompanied the animals.

Angie Wehmeyer was among the volunteers who greeted the flight in Seattle.

“You know, it brings tears to my eyes when I get to see all of the animals getting off the plane and being able to feed them and there is animals from babies to adults,” she said.

Beyond the logistical challenge of planning the operation, the flight was special to Greater Good Charities CEO Liz Baker because she is adopting one of the transferred puppies. Her 10-year-old pit bull Stella died unexpectedly this week, she said.

Associated Press journalist Manuel Valdes contributed to this report. NewsNation affiliate KHON contributed to this report.

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