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Paws From Paradise Fly to New Homes

Over the last five days, three planeloads of Crucian puppies were airlifted to the mainland, most adopted in a matter of hours, through the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center’s Paws from Paradise program. That brings the total to 178 dogs from the Virgin Islands now living in permanent homes in America this year alone.

Volunteers and staff from AWC get the kennels ready to fly. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

Crucian dogs are considered something like designer dogs by some of the partner rescue operations on the East coast, and many find new homes on the first day, according to Wayne Myers, the Paws From Paradise coordinator. After one flight, there was a line of people waiting outside the door of a Pet Smart store to adopt pups from St. Croix, and all were found homes. Others were adopted within minutes of being introduced.

It may be easier on the other end once the dogs have been flown to their destination, but getting them ready to fly is time and labor-intensive. It is all worthwhile because the special flights are almost the only way to transport a dog from the island since most airlines have discontinued the service except for service dogs.

Myers makes the travel arrangements, which can be complicated. He was a retired Delta Airlines employee, so he knows the ropes. The cost varies depending on the number and size of the dogs. Last Thursday’s flight was just under $3,000, and donations cover the costs of all flights.

“If they are all small dogs, it’s cheaper. If they are big dogs, it’s more,” he said.

Dogs selected to fly are small canines or puppies that can be confined safely in crates in Air Cargo Carriers’ and Amerijet’s aircraft. Dogs are first chosen by AWC, and then the partner shelter approves them by photos and short biographies written by staff. Most stateside rescues don’t take pit bulls or pit mixes.

All travelers must be neutered and up-to-date with shots required by the state where they will be living. The veterinarian and vet technicians at the center spend hours performing spay and neuter operations, administering shots, and completing the necessary health certificates.

While they are getting health checkups, other staff are locating airline kennels to fit each dog. They are cleaned, labeled, and stocked with piddle pads.

Foster coordinator Emily Pulido gives puppies a drink of water before securing their airline kennel for the flight. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

Because the animals who fly will find a new home, they are placed with foster parents for the last week or so to make room for new animals who need care at AWC and Pet Place.

The fosters treat the pups like their own, and it’s clear they’re fond of each other when they part at Pet Place early on the morning of the flight.

Two of the foster parents for Thursday’s flight, Alan Boisvert and Shawn Muder, hugged their pups and drove to the airport to help get them loaded on the plane. Both decided to foster pups to help fill a void after losing their own pet, they said.

Thursday’s flight included a truck from Centerline Car Rental with Renee Sweany to help transport puppy-filled crates. At the Fleming Transport dock, she was called upon to cuddle a puppy with an upset stomach while everyone else prepared for the flight. By the time she left, the pup was calm.

Last checklist before the puppies are loaded on the plane for the flight to San Juan. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

At Fleming Transport, 15 puppies in 11 crates – precious cargo – were unloaded. While they waited for the plane to land, the airline crates were cleaned again, and small yogurt containers with ice were zip-tied to the doors of the crates.

Once the incoming flight has emptied its cargo, the puppies are moved into the plane. Myers waits for the flight to take off before he leaves and heads back to the Animal Welfare Center. The flight heads to San Juan for the first leg.

“Planes and puppies – my favorite things,” Myers said. He said it is so hectic it’s hard to get too attached, but it was bittersweet to see two particular dogs leave.

There is an 11-hour layover in San Juan, and Myers hired a man there to unload the plane and let the puppies out in an enclosed space to play. He cleans the kennels, refills water bowls, and loads them up for the final flight.

Siblings Wrinkles and Whitebeard wait to fly to their new stateside home Thursday. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

After arriving in Miami, the puppies were picked up by the Friends of Strays and driven to Tampa to be adopted. Last Friday’s flight took puppies to Orlando.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the surname of Wayne Myers, the Paws From Paradise coordinator. It is Myers, not Meyers.

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