Collective effort finds homes for dozens of local pets

Volunteers spent Sunday morning loading local shelter animals into a
plane bound for Delaware, where a large adoption event will be held for
the pets. (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Ryan Phillips
SDN Editor

The sounds of anxious dogs could be heard echoing across the tarmac at Golden Triangle Regional Airport Sunday morning, but those worried barks and yelps mean that dozens of local shelter animals will soon have forever homes.

Several volunteers from different organizations spent the morning cataloging and loading kennels onto a small plane bound for Delaware, where the demand for adoptable shelter animals is much higher due to stricter laws regarding spay and neuter.

Martha Thomas, director of development and community relations at the Oktibbeha County Humane Society, said the concept was an evolution of the OCHS Express — a coordinated ground transport for shelter animals.

But Sunday was the first time the shelter took to the air to find homes for its animals.

“This is a huge event for us, number one because it’s the largest single transport we’ve done,” Thomas said. “We’re sending 74 cats and dogs today, from Starkville, Columbus and all over north Mississippi and it’s cats and dogs.”

The coordinated effort was made possible by OCHS, the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, Clarksdale Animal Rescue Effort and Shelter (CARES), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and nonprofit Wings of Rescue, along with funding help from PetSmart Charities.

Wings of Rescue, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was founded in 2012 and flies pets from both natural disasters and high intake/or high-kill shelters, to shelters with empty kennel space.

The animals being transported from the Golden Triangle will be taken to the Brandywine Valley SPCA in Delaware, where a “Mega Adoption Event” will be held at the Delaware State Fairgrounds next Saturday and Sunday. The event is expected to offer more than 1,000 animals for adoption into forever homes.

Erin Robbins was on hand to represent Wings of Rescue and said the organization has surpassed 18,000 pets that have taken to the skies en route to their new homes.

However, the event in Delaware offers a unique opportunity to both free up space in overcrowded southern shelters while offering adoptable pets in a place where they aren’t as readily available for those who want to adopt.

“Last year when (Brandywine Valley SPCA) had it, it looked like Black Friday,” Robbins said. “People were lined up before they opened and people were lined up around the building to adopt. These pets will be in loving homes the moment the adoption event starts.” As Thomas held two small dogs — siblings named Noodle and Ramen — she expressed how popular the Mega Adoption Event is.

“So these guys are going to go super quickly,” Thomas said of the two puppies. “Often the destination shelters, when they get a litter of puppies, they will have multiple people lined up with adoption applications filled out in advance and they will go lickety-split.”

But the effort to get the animals to their destination is a costly one and funded completely by donations.

“Some of these flights, depending how far we go, are usually over $25,000 depending how far we go and what aircraft,” Robbins said.

The small plane that took off from GTR can carry roughly 1,100 pounds in pet weight, according to Robbins, and utilizes charter pilots and volunteers to make the effort possible.

Robbins said the flight was organized for the Oktibbeha shelter by the ASPCA, who asked Wings of Rescue to handle the transports.

“It’s very important if you want to save lives,” Robbins said. “Every pet here is actually saving two lives. The shelters are overpopulated so when they don’t have space, there are only a few ways: they are either adopted into homes, transported out or euthanized.”

Thomas echoed the sentiment, saying the Oktibbeha shelter takes in animals regardless of its capacity, but needs to be able to offer ample space for the steady flow of new faces.

“We say that this helps in two ways,” Thomas said. “These guys are going to go and get a forever home, but it also clears up a kennel so when another dog comes in, they can move into that kennel.”

Jason Nickles, of the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, praised the coordinated effort and said the additional space made possible by the transport helps in terms of medical treatment for certain animals.

“I’ve been working with the Starkville group for four or five years now and for us it has significantly helped our ability to treat animals at the shelter with diseases like mange,” he said. “They either get adopted locally or we send them up north and what that does is open up some breathing room at the shelter. Back in 2006, our live rate on dogs was 60 percent, and last year, when we did the numbers, it came out to 85 percent and it’s because of doing stuff like this.”

Robbins said the next flight for Wings of Rescue will be on Dec. 5, but the organization regularly flies across the country, to states like Idaho, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, among others.

But when asked what could be done by the human population to help overcrowded shelters, Robbins said it comes down to education.

“Spay and neuter. In some places, it is against the law for a shelter to allow a pet to leave a shelter unaltered unless there is a serious medical waiver,” she said. “But there are places I know in other states in the south that don’t have that. It really is about education, access to low-cost spay and neuter. Most places have them but a lot of people just don’t know.

“We love puppies and I love puppies, but litters of puppies just means that older dog somebody dropped off pays the price,” Robbins added. “The only thing we can do is spay and neuter and be responsible. They would do it for you.”