When Dogs Fly
We sat parked on the tarmac at the airport in Victoria, all of us searching the sky as somewhere overhead, the sound of an airplane droned closer. Far to the west, a speck appeared in the distance, lined up with the end of the runway and descending steadily.
"I think that might be it," someone said, as the speck resolved itself into a small, twin-engine propeller plane and gently touched down a few hundred meters away.
We waited as the plane slowed and taxied off of the runway, as it approached the corner of the airport where we'd parked our trucks. The plane nosed to a stop just a short distance away from us; the propellers wound down, and two uniformed Canadian border agents emerged from the terminal and crossed the tarmac to speak to the pilot.
We waited for the signal, none of us really able to contain our excitement. Even from here, we could see crates stacked behind every one of the little plane's portholes. This was the plane.
Our dogs had arrived.
It's no small task to fly fifteen rescue animals across multiple international borders. That the dogs inside the little Cessna 414 across the runway had even made it to Victoria at all was testament to the hard work and cooperation of a phone book's worth of dedicated rescue entities, organizations and volunteers, including the Sunshine Animal Refuge Agadir in Morocco, SPCA International, Marley's Mutts, Pet Rescue Pilots, Furbae Rescue, and A Voice 4 Paws Canine Rescue.
Most of all, it was thanks to the tireless work of Raincoast Dog Rescue Society's founder, Jesse Adams, and his partner and fellow rescue superstar Jodie Evans, who'd invested untold hours into planning and coordinating this complicated mission, and who'd navigated an absolutely crazy week of rescue leading up to touchdown, including puppy and kitten births, adoptions, medical emergencies and more than a few sleepless nights.
The amount of behind-the-scenes work and logistical wrangling required to get this mission off the ground (no pun intended) was definitely enormous. I encourage you to check out our wonderful partners in this operation as the work they do is nothing short of heroic.
Here's the story from my point of view: My bestie and rescue partner Alexis and I caught the 11am ferry across to Vancouver Island on Sunday, May 9th, which happened to be Mother's Day. We made it to the Victoria airport a little early, and rendezvoused with another Raincoast volunteer, Evelyn from refined.k.nine, and her lovely pup Wally, as we waited for Jesse and Jodie to sort through all of the requisite customs paperwork.
Eventually, we met with Jesse and Jodie and a literal convoy of other volunteers, fosters and rescue folk in the parking lot of the main terminal, and set out to find the stretch of tarmac where Pet Rescue Pilots' Julian Javor and Natacha Petersen would meet us.
Finding the right spot took a little more work than any of us anticipated, and with our parade of vehicles including multiple pickup trucks and SUVs, a BMW, two RVs and more, we were definitely responsible for tying up traffic around the airport until we got where we were going.
Eventually, we parked at the private terminal and sorted out a plan of attack for when the plane arrived. Lexi and I joined fosters Sabrina and Nick and followed Jesse's truck through the security gates onto the tarmac, scanning the skies for any sign of Julian's plane.
After a couple of false alarms, we spotted the distinctive twin propellers of the Cessna, and our excitement (and, honestly, sense of is this really happening??) mounted as the plane touched down and headed our way.
We waited as the customs officers cleared the plane. And then we had the go ahead, and it was time to meet Julian and Natacha and their precious cargo of dogs.
The pups in the cabin of the Pet Rescue Pilots Cessna had endured incredible journeys to arrive in Victoria. Three of the dogs were tripods, amputees rescued in Morocco by the Sunshine Animal Refuge Agadir, and flown to California by Marley's Mutts.
The other twelve dogs were California locals, mostly small breeds and a handful of bullies. These were Marley's Mutts dogs as well, and it's no exaggeration to say that us Raincoast folk were pretty damn stoked to be collaborating with such fantastic organizations, who do so much good for animals around the world.
After we'd all gotten over being starstruck, it was time to unload the plane. With dogs heading to multiple local rescues and fosters both on Vancouver Island and the mainland, it was no small task keeping the dogs organized as they came off the plane, but Jesse and Jodie managed to keep everyone on track as Julian filled us in with some backstories on some of his favourite of the dogs.
He also chirped my cowboy hat pretty hard, but when a guy donates his time and his plane to fly rescue animals around the continent I guess he's earned the right to throw a few chirps.
Of the fifteen dogs on Julian's plane, four of them were headed back to Vancouver with Lexi and me in the Tacoma. They were:
Zero, a young pittie puppy who'd been born deaf, and who'd nearly deafened Julian and Natacha with his plaintive howling all the way up from California.
Osita, a senior girl whose owner had sadly passed away, and who seemed very scared by the excitement of her journey.
Ben, our tripod, a lovely and very sweet girl who had nearly chewed a hole in her crate on the flight up and would continue her efforts on the ferry.
And Natalia, a beautiful pocket pittie who'd made a huge mess of her crate and who sat looking out at us, embarrassed and despondent in the middle of her mess, as we loaded the truck with foster supplies and helped Julian reload his plane with empty crates.
Once the dogs were all offloaded, we had time for a quick picture with Julian and the plane before Lexi and I had to race off to the ferry terminal to catch the next sailing home with our four pups. Meanwhile, Jesse and Jodie stayed behind to distribute the rest of the dogs to the fosters and rescuers who'd waited patiently behind the gate.
We made it to the ferry terminal with plenty of time, and as we waited to board the ship, Lexi and I set about trying to make Natalia more comfortable. This is where, once again, I am so grateful to have a badass rescue partner who's not afraid to get down and dirty when the job requires it.
Natalia and her crate were covered in poop, and the poor girl was clearly miserable. So we got Natalia out and Lexi cleaned her off and took her for a walk as I tackled the mess inside the crate, and after a while, Lexi spelled me, and between the two of us we tidied up all the poop and hopefully got Natalia feeling a bit better about her circumstances.
We also found two prospective adopters for Natalia in the process, including a BC Ferries staff member who came down from his office to inquire about her availability. Personally, I was already pretty smitten with her, and was really pleased to see how much happier she seemed now that she wasn't locked in a poopy crate, and people were showering love and affection on her.
We managed to get Zero and Osita out for walks and water too, and then the ferry was pulling in and it was time to board, so we packed everything up and idled onto the boat.
It was a beautiful afternoon on the water, and as we sailed we took the dogs out again to stroll around the vehicle deck. I took Ben for a walk to the bow, and even though she was a bit uncertain at first, she seemed to relax in the sunshine, and even played a little bit with Natalia and Zero.
Osita, meanwhile, was still quite scared. She was receptive to cuddles, though. Which was good, because so am I.
Zero continued his habit of howling and crying whenever he was left alone in his crate, and Ben really didn't like being locked up either. She was also a cuddler though, so I really had no complaints.
Once the ferry arrived back on the mainland, I scarfed down the burger Lexi had bought me from the ship's cafeteria and set our GPS to the first of our three stops to offload the dogs.
Our first stop was in Ladner, where Zero would leave us, in the care of a lovely couple from the Sunshine Coast who already knew they wanted to adopt him. They'd already renamed their new family member "Billy the Kid" and were all set to welcome him into their lives, and Lexi and I were glad to know our rambunctious little scamp was heading off to a life of adventure and exploration in a fun and stimulating environment.
Speaking of rambunctious, it was as we were loading the truck back up that we noticed that Ben had literally chewed a hole through the plastic in her crate, big enough to fit her head through. I tried to tie the crate back together and flipped it around so that she couldn't access the hole, but it was something we would have to keep an eye on as we continued our deliveries.
Natalia was our next goodbye; her wonderful foster family was waiting for her in New Westminster, and was just as thrilled to meet her as we were sad to see her go. She'd warmed up to us so much and seemed so much happier than when we'd taken her off the plane, and if Lexi and I didn't have our own dogs already I'm pretty sure we would have stolen her.
As it was, Natalia has landed in a great foster situation with experienced and attentive caregivers. I've had the chance to see her again since this mission and she seems so happy and relaxed now; she has no shortage of folks interested in adopting her, either, and I know she'll find a lovely home.
Meanwhile, Ben had chewed a hole in the other side of her crate and was once again threatening to escape. Again, we patched things up as best we could and tried to block her in, but I still watched the rearview for any signs of activity in the canopy of the Taco as we covered the last thirty minute drive to her foster family.
Fortunately, she didn't escape, though her crate is a write-off. And at our third stop, both Ben's and Osita's fosters were waiting patiently for us to arrive. Osita's adoption will be handled by A Voice 4 Paws, and her foster has already taken her to the spa for some much-needed pampering.
Meanwhile, Ben's foster folks were polite enough not to be completely appalled by the state of Ben's crate. It probably helped that their new charge is as sweet as can be when she's not in confinement; she's such a cuddly and happy dog, even after losing a limb and flying halfway around the world.
The sun was almost set by the time we watched Ben bounce happily away beside her new foster parents, and as I watched her go I felt that same kind of wistful I always feel after missions. We'd only spent an afternoon with these dogs, but it was enough to get a glimpse of their unique personalities, to be charmed by their idiosyncrasies, and maybe to even start to fall in love.
I know every one of the dogs who passes through my care is heading to a full and happy life--Raincoast is so very conscientious about making sure each dog lands in an ideal home--but there's always a part of me that wishes I could keep them all.
For Lexi and I, our time with each dog is so brief, but very intense, and I know it must be such a fraught and traumatic experience for the dogs, to be cooped up and jostled and moved around and scared. We try our very best to make sure each dog knows they are loved while we get them to their destinations.
As we drove my now-empty truck back to my apartment, Lexi's phone buzzed with a text from Natalia's fosters: a picture of Natalia, staring after my truck as we drove away.
"Saw her making puppy eyes at you as you were packing up," the text said, and damned if that wasn't the cherry on what had been a wonderful day.
That's what I'll remember about this mission. It was so cool to be there on the tarmac when the dogs came in on Julian's plane, and I'm excited for Raincoast and the partnership with Marley's Mutts and Pet Rescue Pilots and SARA and SPCA International, and what it means for Raincoast and the dogs we can save moving forward.
But the enduring memory, for me, will be Natalia, and how scared and sad and demoralized she looked when she came into my care, and how the weight seemed to have lifted and the light returned to her eyes, the tail wags and the kisses and the snuggles, by the time we said goodbye.
If there's a better testament to the power of love, and compassion, and cooperation, than the way that dog transformed, I don't know what it is.
And that's what keeps us rescuers coming back for more.
These rescue missions are funded entirely by donations! Check out Raincoast Dog Rescue Society for information on how to contribute, or to learn how to foster or adopt one of our mission alums!