Animal rescue group Wings of Rescue hopes to make its 2015 holiday airlift its biggest event to date with a fleet of 25 planes from tiny Cessnas to business jets carrying more than 1,000 dogs and 100 cats to new homes around the United States.
The nonprofit group was co-founded by Yehuda Netanel, a dog lover from Israel who now resides in Malibu, California. He’s a former Angel Flight volunteer who started Wings of Rescue six years ago. The Thanksgiving-week airlift will be the group’s largest airlift to date.
“Last year we flew 608 animals,” Wings of Rescue Logistics Coordinator Ric Browde told From the Grapevine. “And as soon as the last plane took off, Yehuda told me, ‘Next year we have to go bigger, we have to do 1,000 dogs!’ And I thought, where the heck are we going to get 1,000 dogs? The really sad part is, there are 1,000 dogs that need homes.”
The airlift will utilize a variety of aircraft including Metroliners that hold 160 dogs to Cessnas that hold about 15. While most of the pilots involved are seasoned Wings of Rescue volunteers, there will be a couple of pilots making their first rescue flight. “We’re always looking for new pilots that are willing to join the team,” added Browde.
The majority of flights will take off on Nov. 20 from Van Nuys. The event will be filmed as part of the All-Star Dog Rescue Celebration to air on the FOX network in primetime on Thanksgiving. The two-hour special aims to raise awareness for the eight million animals currently in the U.S. shelter system. It’s being produced by actress Hilary Swank and will feature celebrity guests who will introduce the dogs in need of homes and honor the volunteers who dedicate their lives to caring for animals in need.
This is the second year in a row that Swank is producing the Thanksgiving TV special.
Flights will criss-cross from California to New York, Georgia to Wisconsin and Tennessee to Illinois. “All these shelters are getting the message out that we’re working together to save our pets,” says Browde.
While some dogs already have families lined up, others will be adopted upon arrival. The average stay for a Wings of Rescue dog in a new shelter is only 3 1/2 days. The group says they have a 100% adoption rate.
The airlift will cost the group more than $100,000. Browde says, on average, it costs $100 to save one dog – which includes fuel, charter fees for larger aircraft and the cost of the health certificate required for each animal to fly.
Every dollar that is contributed goes directly to helping save a pet’s life, and Browde emphasizes that no donation is too small. “We’re using money to get the planes in the air and get the dogs where they need to go.”