Rescue flights transport animals to safe havens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Shelley
Canines, we have lift-off.
Fourteen dogs and one cat took the mile-high route from the Rowan County Airport to new homes in the northeast Saturday as part of Animal Rescue Flight’s animal rescue program.
The animals were rescued from death row at an Anderson, S.C., animal shelter and were transferred to the airport by a caravan of volunteers.
Volunteer pilots flew in to the airport to transfer the rescued animals to Frederick, Md., where they will again be transferred to homes as far as Maine and Albany, N.Y.
Believe it or not, everything is volunteer, and these efforts happen every weekend at different airports, or by vehicle with different transfer points every 60-90 miles.
“There are so many animals that are getting put to sleep down south,” said Robin Wright, director of communication outreach for the nonprofit Animal Rescue Flight (ARF). ARF works with hundreds of rescue groups throughout the United States, and most of the animals come from shelters in the South.
The nonprofit group Freedom Train Animal Rescue Transports brought the 15 rescue animals up Saturday, and four volunteer pilots loaded up their planes.
“I love to help the animals,” said pilot Dave Roberts of Cary. Roberts flew three dogs Saturday, making it his fifth trip for rescue organizations. “Animal Rescue Flights is a great organization. They do great work,” he said
Roberts said most of the time the dogs go right to sleep.
“I think they know you’re saving them,” he said.
One dog Roberts transported to safety was more worried about giving him kisses than the takeoff.
“I had one jump in my lap and start kissing me,” he said.
Most of the time the dogs are in crates, but there are the lucky few who get the chance to be co-pilots.
Trish Cates, who volunteers with Cloud Nine Rescue Flights and Freedom Train Transports, spends every weekend transporting animals. She has moved as many as 25 animals at once.
“I usually drive from Charlotte to Richmond, Va., but I also bring rescues to airports,” Cates said. “We also transport in ‘legs,’ and have 15 drivers up the East Coast,” she said, describing how volunteers drive 60-90 miles before handing off to another volunteer to take the animals.
“I do it all to save the lives of the animals,” she said.
Cates said next weekend they’re transporting animals to the airport in Kinston.
“Moving them by air is much easier on the dogs and cats,” said Cates. “And they really seem to enjoy it.”
Rhonda Sims founded Freedom Train Transports, starting the organization after she adopted her first rescue dog, Charlie.
“Just knowing that there were a lot of other Charlies that weren’t going to make it out got me into it,” said Sims.
Sims prescreened and approved every animal that was flown out.
“I go up north every eight weeks and meet the potential adoption parents to make sure I am giving the dog or cat to the right person,” said Sims, who also checks references.
Sims said the animals mostly come from the “urgent” list at the Anderson, S.C., shelter. Those are the ones on the adoption floor awaiting euthanasia. Sims said more than 350 dogs are euthanized every week at the Anderson shelter.
“Their time is usually running out and are facing euthanization within three to four weeks,” Sims said. “As we get the animals from the adoption floor, it allows for more animals from the back to come up in chances of being adopted.”
Sims also takes in strays, neglected dogs outside on chains and other rescues she comes across and puts them up for adoption. She was leaving the airport after takeoff and heading to Greenville, S.C., to rescue eight dogs that had belonged to a hoarder.
“They are living in filth and rolling around in their own feces,” she said. “We are immersed in this every day of our lives.”
Dogs that Sims sends to a new home are spayed or neutered, brought up to date on shots and don’t cost the new owners a thing.
“I never charge to get an animal to safety,” said Sims.
Sims said she has saved about 3,000 dogs so far from the shelter. She has also saved more than 1,000 strays from other places.
“It’s hard to keep up with the numbers we’ve saved,” said Sims.
Volunteer pilot Skip Capone and his wife, Pat, from Greensboro, will be participating in their second animal rescue flight.
“It’s really nice and it makes you feel good,” said Capone. “We are saving animals that might bring happiness to other people, and I get to fly at the same time.”
Paul Cox, a pilot from Winchester, Va., is making his fifth flight for animal rescues.
“This combines two of my loves,” said Cox. “One is animals, and the other is aviation.”
Cox’s largest load was 15 cats and kittens from Greenville, S.C., which he flew to Youngstown, Ohio.
“It actually worked out really well. One talked to me most of the way to Ohio,” he said.
For more information on Animal Rescue Flights or Freedom Train Transports, visit their Web sites, and www.freedomtraintransports. com.