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-- This rescue owes special thanks to Larry Buchanan for joining us and letting us use his twin-engine Cessna, and to Calican Rescue and Cheryl Nielsen for another extraordinary job of rescuing and helping orchestrate this complicated long transport to Canada!  And our thanks and warmest wishes go to our 20 new friends and finest of passengers, some of the sweetest rescue dogs ever:  Topaz, Harry, Ringo, Remy, Jazz, Betty, Gwynn, Buckwheat, Twiggles, Frazier, Peach, Cori, Panda, Percy, Tanner, one-eyed Sweetie, Spike, Eddie, Zeus,  and Lucy!!!  --

2012 September 21-23, Friday-Sunday
20 Dogs to Calican Rescue in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Rescuing homeless dogs is a multi-step process. It is not enough to get them off the street or out of abusive situations, nor is it enough to give them food and water and a kennel somewhere.  Some dogs need help to forget troublesome “issues” they’ve developed as a result of abuse, but a vast majority of dogs in need present no issues -- they are healthy, sociable, lovable and eminently adoptable. All they need is a human family who longs to receive their lifelong love and loyalty!  And there are plenty of those.  The challenge is to help the dogs and the families find each other.  On Wings Of Care volunteers and our wide network of fellow animal rescuers help with all of these steps, and we especially love to use our networking and flying capabilities to complete this final step of bringing dogs and humans together.

This past weekend brought to fruition the long-planned transport of 20 small dogs to Alberta, Canada, where eager adopters awaited their new canine family members.  Kari and Rene of Calican Rescue out of Edmonton, Alberta have been uniting Canadian families with wonderful dogs in California whose time in shelters has run out, giving both dogs and families treasures for life.  There is no shortage of highly adoptable small dogs in California, where thousands meet tragic fates of euthanasia every week, only because their pitifully short time available to them in animal shelters has run out.

We’ve made these flights before, but this trip brought some unexpected challenges -- not from the dogs, but from logistics....  


First, our trusty economical airplane “Bessie” was damaged in Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans earlier this month and could not be used for this flight. Fortunately, a twin-engine Cessna in California was offered to us to use, which meant that we could hold even more animals and travel faster! The only hitch came about a week before our scheduled departure -- the plane had been purchased a few months ago, but the FAA requires 120 days before a newly purchased aircraft can be flown out of the US. Ouch. Not to be stopped, we devised a Plan B!  We would fly to Great Falls, Montana and rent a van and drive the dogs the rest of the way into Canada.  Good enough, the Calican folks even offered to save us a few hours of driving and meet us in Calgary. We had made it past that challenge.

We flew to Hanford, California Friday night and slept in the plane, in order to be ready to go at daybreak Saturday morning when the dogs would arrive for the trip.  That went well, the plane was comfy and roomy, and the dogs arrived a little after 6 am. We took the time to meet and handle each and every dog, a rule we follow (and a privilege we enjoy no end) for several reasons -- so that we know which dogs might require special care and of what sort, and so that the dogs are reassured and comfortable with us. This was especially important with these dogs, for unlike other groups, almost all of these dogs had never had homes and had just come out of shelters with no training and little socialization.  Often we let dogs we transport ride loosely leashed in the plane instead of in crates; it all depends on what is most comfortable for them, and of course safest for all.  This time, since we had plenty of room in the plane, some of the dogs were timid and not that used to people, and since we were going to have to transfer to ground transportation before they reached their final destinations, we opted to leave the dogs in crates.

Maybe there’s some universal law that says when things get too easy, a new challenge is needed. That when a Plan B is needed, you had better also be ready with Plans C and D!  Because when we arrived at Great Falls, Montana shortly after noon, the van we had rented was nowhere to be found. In fact, there were no vans available at all!  After considerable discussion with rental car personnel, it appeared that our best bet for a large vehicle that we could take to Canada was a Nissan ExTerra.  We would have to dismantle all of the crates and tie them to the top of the car, and the dogs would have to ride loose in the car!  Fortunately, we had brought plenty of soft blankets and pillows, so at least they would all be comfortable and the car would be protected.  The time that it would take before we could get on the road meant that we would not arrive Calgary until about 9 or 10 pm. And we could only hope that the border crossing would go smoothly, with this unusual cargo!

The employees at Holman Aviation were wonderfully helpful.  They helped us dismantle and nest all the crates, and they loaned us some aircraft tiedown ropes to tie the empty crates to the top of the car. The dogs were great too, bless their hearts. They seemed to think it was a hugely fun adventure for all of them to be together on blankets in the back of the car -- well, all of them except Topaz. He slipped out of the car and found himself amid many strange humans and empty crates. No big deal -- remember, I had established a personal relationship with each dog before we left! So when the guys called out to me “Uh-oh!  One got loose!”  I just walked over easily, kneeled down, and called out to Topaz, “Hey Topaz, come here buddy, it’s okay.”  And I almost had him in my arms, when Topaz spied two helpful male employees bearing down on him from either side... and he took off running. Topaz is a very small short-haired handsome black and gold chihuahua, weighing all of maybe six pounds dripping wet. But that little guy can reallllly run. Since the airport area was all fenced, and we were well away from any car or airplane traffic, I decided to finish dismantling all of the crates while the two men took their golf cart and set off to corral Topaz at the far fenceline.

Never ever think it’s going to be easy to catch a running dog, just because he's small!  The guys tried everything.  They ran, they drove, they called, they begged, they lied, they promised. (If we hadn’t been so late, the whole situation would have been hilarious.) Just as I finished with the crates and walked toward them all to try my hand at enticing Topaz back to love and safety, one of the men succeeded in scooping up Topaz. When he reached me with Topaz held tightly to his chest, Topaz’s eyes were as big as saucers, and the man had an impressive tooth mark on his forearm. I carried Topaz to the car to join the other 19 dogs, and he lay down on a pillow and shuddered with relief.  Later, when we were driving, Topaz spent the entire time either in my arms, or lying on that pillow sleeping or looking at me with what I think was gratitude.

The border crossing was, well, interesting. The first officer wanted to turn us back when he saw all the loose dogs, and he muttered some words to the effect that all the dogs needed to see their veterinarian, so we would have to come back during normal business hours.  (This was Saturday night around 6 pm.)  He eased a bit after I showed him the notebook of impeccable paperwork with health certificates and other information for each dog (inwardly saying to myself “Thank You, Calican, for being so meticulous!”). Then he told us to leave the dogs in the car and walk in to the Commercial section to complete our paperwork. Not home free yet. The folks inside raised their eyebrows some, but they, too, softened when they saw all of the perfect paperwork. The gentleman even called Kari and Rene on the phone to discuss some fine points about value of the dogs, whether they had adopters yet, etc. Finally, about 45 minutes later, we received the okay to be on our way.

Arriving back at the car, we found 20 very eager dogs jumping at the windows for joy at our return. Lucky for us (I thought to myself) these are all chihuahuas and other small breeds! Only one small mishap -- Harry (the one and only shih-tzu in the group) had found the “Greenies” in the bag of paperwork, and he and Buckwheat and Spike were disagreeing some on who had first rights at the bag.  None of them seemed able to get it open, though (hooray for chihuahua-proof packaging!), which defused any potential quarrels.  I played mean mom and took the bag away; Harry never forgot that and gave me no end of grief about it for the rest of the trip.

By the time we reached our rendezvous point, about seven hours later, every single one of these dogs had learned to enjoy sitting on human laps and riding in a car.  Not that we planned it that way, but at any given time, it seemed quite impossible for us to keep any fewer than about seven of the 20 dogs from taking a turn at sitting on our laps or on the center console or curling up on the front passenger floor. By the time we transferred these dogs to the Calican folks later that evening, every one of them had become quite the little lovebug.  No concerns at all for their future bonding with their new human families!

The rest of the trip went smoothly for us.  We stopped at an A&W Root Beer drive-in for dinner in High River, and decided to force ourselves awake and drive all the way back to Montana that night.  We found a motel room in Shelby, Montana for the night, and enjoyed the quiet morning road trip back to Great Falls the next day. It felt kind of lonely in the car, though, with not even one dog to sit on our laps!

The flight home also went smoothly, and we have some nice footage of it. Only sad thing, though, is that most of the beautiful scenery of the Rockies, the Salmon River Range, the Bitterroots, and the Sierra Nevada was never visible, because the west is on fire.  We were flying in smoke most of those two days!  It was very sad to see (or rather not see).  The locals told us that fires like this happen every decade or so.  But we wondered if they realized that it wasn’t just a fire in their area.  All of the mountains of the west have been on fire this year.

But back to the dogs! The folks from Calican Rescue have begun posting the dogs with their new human families on their Facebook page -- enjoy their photos and stories here!

They are wonderful about providing status updates, and we love hearing them for months to come.  People who help rescue animals are some of the nicest human beings on this planet. And if you’re reading this, we probably don’t have to persuade you that rescued animals are definitely some of the nicest animals on this planet!

We’ll be thinking of you and will always remember you, Topaz, Harry, Ringo, Remy, Jazz, Betty, Gwynn, Buckwheat, Twiggles, Frazier, Peach, Cori, Panda, Percy, Tanner, Sweetie (one-eyed), Turbo (Spike), Eddie, Zeus,  and Lucy!!!