Downeast Dog News
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Maine Nonprofits Welcome Hurricane Animals

By Susan Spisak | Dec 01, 2019
Photo by: Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland Wings of Rescue's Ric Browde

On October 4th of this year, several Maine non-profits opened their hearts to companion animals in need from the Bahamas Islands after Hurricane Dorian left many of them in shambles. This evacuation was made possible through the generosity of the International Fund for Animal Welfare and PetSmart Charities and was coordinated and conducted by Wings of Rescue (WOR), an all-volunteer, California-based 501(c) 3 non-profit whose mission is to fly endangered pets from overcrowded shelters and natural disaster locations to high-adoption shelters with available kennel space.

Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP) spearheaded the efforts in Maine, and they received 4 dogs and 22 cats, while 26 additional cats were split between Animal Welfare Society (AWS), Midcoast Humane and Pope Memorial Humane Society (PMHS). ARLGP worked with WOR twice after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and were not only familiar with them but impressed by the non-profit’s passion and professionalism.

ARLGP had originally been planning on taking in animals from overcrowded southern shelters this past September in conjunction with WOR, but that stateside flight was postponed when Dorian wiped out towns and animal shelters in the Bahamas. “We have a great relationship with WOR and their President and CEO, Ric Browde,” explained Jeana Roth, Director of Community Engagement at ARLGP. “When we heard about the critical conditions there, we contacted Ric.”

WOR had already been busy, sending cargo planes filled with humanitarian and pet supplies into the Bahamas and leaving with rescued animals. (Since their inception in 2012, WOR has flown more than 38,000 animals to safety.) Jeana said they learned that makeshift tent shelters were constructed by welfare agencies and volunteers on the affected islands so animals could be cared for and quarantined prior to transport. She added that many had been shelter residents and those numbers swelled as some Bahamians relinquished their pets prior to the storm, fearful they’d not be able to care for them once the massive storm hit.

After the animals slated for their run completed their quarantine, they were flown by WOR and Ric to the Portland International Jetport (with a stop for fuel in Florida and in Delaware to drop rescues with an SPCA group there). This evacuation was just one of many that WOR cargo planes flew out of the Bahamas – Ric said they own one plane, have a few volunteer pilots with their own planes, and charter larger cargo planes. They also rely on other volunteers on the ground for help. “In reality, we have very few [on the ground volunteers]. We utilize the receiving and sending shelters staff and volunteers on our flights to help load and unload the pets,” he shared.

Jeana was one of the shelter staffers at Portland International Jetport. There were teams of volunteers and local media as well. They worked quickly and in unison, moving crates off the plane, as in “all hands-on deck,” Jeana said. “It was powerful to see.” (To view her live airport video, visit facebook.com/arlgp/videos/2378524295740240/.)

Stephanie Kelley, Marketing Communications Manager for AWS, said this was their third venture with WOR, and they picked up 10 cats on this run. She said they were thrilled to help, “This is what we do.” She added it ties directly to their mission as they open their Adoption Center to pets evacuated from disaster zones, offer them a safe place, plus there’s plenty of willing adopters in the community. Like Jeana, she stressed that the airport mood was positive, joyful, and heartwarming. “Most importantly, everyone was hardworking - from unloading the pets from the airplane, to getting our cats in our van, to getting the paperwork in order; everyone worked together.”

Shelter vehicles traveled with their new charges to their respective facilities to start their exams. At ARLGP, rest and relaxation were mandated. “It’s been a whirlwind of things for these animals. From the storm, to tent shelter, to a flight to Maine,” Jeana said. ARLGP’s goal was to let these pets become comfy, settle in their cages, and receive lots of love.

In Kennebunk at AWS, Stephanie indicated the cats acclimated well. “We saw no outstanding trauma in them as we settled them in at the Adoption Center here…Like all cats, they each have their own unique personalities - some are more outgoing, some are shyer - but we don't attribute that to their life on the island or journey to Maine.” Only two are still awaiting their new family - Coal and Josie.

Kate Cochrane, Intake Manager for Midcoast Humane said they were happy to help with this endeavor. Like the other shelters, they aren’t new to opening their doors to pups, cats, and kittens in need from other regions, too. And they only have a few Bahamian cats left awaiting new homes. (Drop by their Brunswick or Edgecomb campus to see all their adoptables.)

Tracy Sala, Executive Director at PMHS in Thomaston, said they took in 5 cats. “We wish we could have taken more, but we were already over capacity and we just didn't have the room.” Yet they were glad to help in any way for two reasons.

“I read several accounts of the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, and my heart went out to all impacted - humans and animals alike. My heart broke for the staff at the Humane Society of Grand Bahamas when I read about their facility flooding and losing well over a hundred animals. When given the opportunity, we couldn't say no.”

Tracy added that Patsy Murphy, Executive Director of ARLGP, is a friend and colleague, and she asked for their help. “Patsy is wonderful about reaching out and helping other shelters. She has even helped us on occasion when we have been inundated with cats. I wanted to be able to return the kindness.” Tracy did not go to the airport, but Patsy met her in Bath to deliver the felines. “I was very excited to meet the newest members to the PMHS family.” She said all the cats adapted well, and only two remain, Niel and Isabelle. “Niel is adorable and a personal favorite.”

Jeana said that all animals ARLGP received have been adopted, except for one dog who’s on medical hold. (It appears she was hit by a car, and they want her to recoup before they place her in a home.) Even Duke and Duchess, the large-breed bonded dogs, found a wonderful family together. She added their island intakes are living in happy homes here in Maine, “That’s what it’s all about.”

To that end, Jeana said they’ll continue their relationship with WOR and bring more pets from overcrowded, burdened southern shelters. And WOR and Ric are on board with that: “We absolutely adore partnering with [ARLGP Executive Director] Patsy Murphy and the Animal Refuge League, and we’re so incredibly pleased by the [October] experience that we are going to be scheduling regular flights up to Portland starting in December.”