LIVERMORE -- Animals due to be euthanized at California shelters may be given a reprieve and flown to safety thanks to the nonprofit group Wings of Rescue.
According to the American Human Society, about 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats taken to shelters are euthanized annually across the nation.
Based out of Northern California, Wings of Rescue brings together animal activists and local pilots to relocate animals from kill shelters to less pet-populated states. So far, the group has successfully relocated more than 2,000 animals to parts of Utah, Oregon, Washington and even Canada.
It is also planning a big Dec. 7 airlift of 300 animals to be sent out of state.
"We coordinate flights with the rescue effort to transport these animals where they can be adopted," said pilot Cindy Smith of Livermore, a Wings of Rescue co-founder.
"In the past, these animals were transferred by ground, which could take 24 hours or more. By plane, the ride for these animals would only be about four hours and that is very important, especially to nursing moms of kitties or puppies. My plane is a four-seater Diamond Star single-engine and can carry, on average, 10 small animals. I have held as many as 16 puppies that were six to eight weeks old."
The group consists of only a handful of pilots and mostly transports cats, dogs and rabbits as their cargo. Animals come in from shelters in the Bay Area, central California, Los Angeles and other parts of the state. Trips mostly fly out of the Livermore and Van Nuys airports. Depending on which plane in the organization is used, the cost of fuel per trip can range from $250 to $1,800 and they can do multiple transports a month.
Animals from the Tracy Animal Shelter have been taken and relocated through the Wings of Rescue program. Within the last fiscal quarter, the shelter euthanized 22 percent of impounded dogs and 68 percent of impounded cats -- almost half of which were kittens that came into the shelter, some just a day old.
"This is an amazing group," said Kim Gray, the volunteer rescue coordinator for the Tracy shelter.
"I've helped pull dogs from the shelter, drive them to the Livermore Airport and load them on the plane," she said, adding that it is rewarding to get news of the new life of a rescued animal.
"I did receive feedback from one foster family about a long-haired Chihuahua, it was a video of the dog playing in the backyard with others dogs, and she was so happy," she said.
"This is extremely rewarding," said pilot and Wings of Rescue co-founder Yehuda Netanel of Los Angeles. "Now that we are going into the winter-type weather, it's harder to transport by ground. The advantage of the flights is not only shorter travel time but also flying over snow-covered passes and not trying to drive through them. These flights are needed for these animals to reach places of safety and out of the shelters that euthanize."
Netanel's plane is a Piper Malibu Mirage with a jetProp engine conversion. This is a pressurized six-seater airplane that can fly altitudes up to 27,000 feet, cruise about 235 knots and can carry up to 60 animals.
Smith and Yehudi formed Wings of Rescue several years ago, after meeting up while working for another rescue group. This is Wings' second big December airlift -- last year they moved 100 animals at that time.
Smith says she uses her plane to make three to four flights a month to relocate animals. She enjoys the volunteer work, and says it gives her a good reason to fly.
The nonprofit group is asking the public for donations to help cover fuel costs, vaccinations for animals and other medical bills. The group is also looking for more volunteer pilots to help out with the holiday transport.
Reach Anne Marie Fuller at email@example.com.