Orphaned pups take flight to find sanctuary
Victoria and L.A.-based charities team up to find B.C. homes for abandoned Mexican dogs
One of the few positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there are fewer dogs in Canadian shelters — many people who have suddenly found themselves housebound have decided it's a perfect time to adopt a new pet.
But dogs elsewhere haven't been so lucky. In Mexico, unemployment and financial stress have forced many owners to surrender their pets to shelters or abandon them. That has worsened an already dire situation for animals there — the city of Guanajuato, for example, kills about 50 stray dogs every week.
Some fortunate Mexican mutts make their way to new homes in B.C. with the help of rescue groups like Mex-Can Pet Partners, run by Victoria's Marlene Davis. Since 2001, the non-profit group has found homes, mainly in B.C., for more than 1,000 dogs.
But even with no shortage of eager adopters, Davis has a problem — how to get animals from Mexico to Canada during a pandemic, when many commercial flights are grounded and she can no longer rely on vacationing volunteers to bring dogs home with them in the cargo hold.
Enter Wings of Rescue, which flies animals from countries with high kill rates to safe homes elsewhere. Two volunteer pilots from the Los Angeles-based charitable organization heard about Davis's dilemma and offered to help. Their first joint rescue mission in July brought 28 canines from the Mex-Can shelter in Guanajuato to new homes in Victoria and across B.C.
Now friends of Davis have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help the two groups partner again, raising money to pay for aviation fuel and dog crates. It has already met its original $15,000 goal and has doubled it in hopes of being able to bring even more dogs here.
In late November, Wings of Rescue helped bring a deaf Great Dane, who was too large for a commercial flight, to her new home in Sooke.
During the pandemic, many rescue groups have struggled to keep up with the demand for pets. The B.C. SPCA, for instance, has seen as many as 200 applications for a single puppy.
After their dog died, Esquimalt couple Val Lawton and Robb Johnstone were frustrated by their unsuccessful efforts to adopt from B.C. rescue groups until they found Mex-Can Pet Partners in January, just before the pandemic hit.
“We saw a photo of Julie on the website and knew she was the one,” says Johnstone.
They met with Davis, and within two weeks the Chihuahua-Yorkie mix was curled up on their sofa. “Street dogs are smart and she can read our moods,” Lawton says. “She knows when we need a cuddle. Julie is a wonderful addition to our family.”
The key to the adoption process is matching people with the right dog, Davis says. “My goal is to make everyone happy and having no dogs returned. It's best to get it right the first time because we want to minimize changes in a dog's life.”
All Mex-Can dogs already have adoptive or foster homes waiting for them before they leave Mexico. They are spayed or neutered, as well as being up to date on their vaccinations and tested for diseases common to Mexico (such as heartworm, ehrlichia and leishmaniasis).
“Marlene Davis is one of very few rescuers we work with, and we have a waiting list,” says Wings of Rescue's president and CEO Ric Browde. “So many rescues cut protocol and safety measures, but Marlene follows every regulation to the letter. We sailed through customs at Victoria airport because she did it right.”
Browde jokes that their passengers “are cuter, friendlier and often better behaved than those flown by other airlines.”
“Once we hit 3,000 metres, all the dogs fall asleep, like someone waves a magic wand,” he says. “When we start to land, it's like having a plane full of three-year-olds asking `Are we there yet?' They all wake up at the same time.”