“If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” This phrase describes the mission of nonprofit Wings of Rescue.
Founded six years ago by Yehuda Netanel, a general aviation pilot residing in Malibu’s Monte Nido neighborhood, the organization takes dogs and cats in imminent danger of being euthanized in high-kill, overcrowded animal shelters in the L.A. area and transports them by private plane to Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana, where there are shortages of pets available for adoption.
The organization now has 31 pilots that volunteer their own time and airplanes to provide regular transportation of animals to facilities outside of L.A. They have also begun picking up animals from the Bakersfield area, as well as South Carolina, and have taken them as far away as New York and Canada. As of last week, the group had rescued a total of 13,843 animals. Wings of Rescue has a network of 29 receiving shelters and 26 sending shelters that they work with to coordinate their transports.
A PBS documentary, “Shelter Me: New Beginnings,” portrayed a special Wings of Rescue transport that took place about four months ago, flying 128 dogs from L.A County Baldwin Park Animal Shelter to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on nine private planes that took off from Long Beach Airport.
Many of the selected dogs had to be spayed or neutered, groomed, photographed and microchipped in the days leading up to the trip. On the day of the flight, they were rousted from their cages beginning at 4 a.m. by volunteers, walked, put into travel crates with labels and photos, lined up, and put into transport vans by 7:30 a.m.
Once at the airport, the dogs had to be loaded onto one of nine planes for the three-hour flight. Upon arrival in Idaho, a team of nearly 100 volunteers met the planes on the tarmac, took the dogs off the planes and out of their crates, and walked them on leashes to representatives of the proper receiving shelter. A dog “parade” and adoption events took place right on the airport grounds, with many of the dogs being adopted right on the spot.
Within two weeks, every dog had found a new family.
Debbie Jeffrey, director of the Kootenai Humane Society — one of the Idaho receiving shelters — said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times that Wings of Rescue has brought them 1,500 animals so far. “The majority of what we get is small dogs because we don’t have many of them here,” she said. “Just last Friday, we had another flight, and all 16 of them were adopted by the time we got through processing. We’ll keep taking them as long as they want to bring them.” She lets local people know about incoming transports through social media and Facebook.
It’s a very happy ending — all of the dogs that had been not been adopted and headed for euthanasia in the crowded shelters of L.A. found a new home and a new life in the country atmosphere of Idaho. And the story repeats itself over and over again with every flight made by Wings of Rescue.
Netanel said his organization provides the link between having too many dogs and cats in one place and not enough to go around in other parts of the country.
“Air transport is being used to bridge the long distances,” he said. “I became aware of how dogs get euthanized routinely after just two or three days in a shelter. And we as volunteer pilots in the general aviation world can do something quite meaningful about it.”
Unfortunately, the flagship plane crashed on a test flight several months ago, and its absence is compromising Wings of Rescue’s goal of rescuing 7,000 animals in 2015.
“We’re still feeling the aftermath of this devastating loss, and we need the community’s support to continue our mission of airlifting shelter pets to their new homes,” Netanel shared. “We’re looking to purchase a plane that will make it possible to save an additional 100,000 shelter pets during its lifespan.”
He encourages any pilot with access to a cabin-class turboprop or corporate jet to join the volunteer air corps.
“The rescue flights are easy and fun, the logistics are handled by volunteers, the cost is tax deductible, and the satisfaction is immense,” he said.
Netanel hopes to buy a pre-owned Pilatus PC-12 pressurized turboprop plane for approximately $2 million, and will personally donate the $1 million insurance payout from the previous plane to kick-off the fundraising challenge.
For more information about donating or volunteering, visit the website at wingsofrescue.org.