We have more than 70 dogs at SOS Chapala DOG Rescue, and at least 40 more waiting to get in. We can’t build new kennels fast enough. Meanwhile, U.S. Northwest and Canada has few dogs, but many individuals and families longing to adopt one. It’s a basic challenge of supply and demand. If we can just get travelers who are flying from Guadalajara to these places anyway to agree to shepherd our dogs north with them, to be “flight angels,” everyone will win, especially the hapless, lovable dogs.
Why don’t people rush to sign up to be flight angels? It was such a flippant question for me to ask until I finally reminded myself that I had a long, lost brother who lives in Seattle whom I’d never visited. Why didn’t I become a flight angel? After all, I volunteered with these dogs. I knew how wonderful and deserving they were, how long some of them had waited to find their forever families. I had no excuse. Gulp! I reluctantly agreed.
Barbara, our lead volunteer, veteran flight angel, and coordinator for north-of-the-border adoptions, reviewed the logistics with me, and assured me everything would be easy. SOS would take care of all the preparations, arranging to ship four larger dogs in carriers beneath the plane, while I took a puppy in a small carrier with me in the cabin. Still, I was nervous. In fact, I had a nightmare about arriving in Seattle only to realize that I’d inadvertently left the puppy carrier behind at the Guadalajara Airport. There I was, standing before the expectant Seattle family, empty-handed….
The morning of the trip, I met Barbara and another volunteer, Sue from Lakeside Friends of Animals, who supports us in so many ways, at SOS to collect the dogs. All five were gathered in one kennel: Libby and Raina, the black Labs; Melina the smaller, white Lab mix; Flaco the mystery mix that one volunteer guessed was a Mexican desert wolf; and the black puppy, Jupiter. All were excited, but oblivious about the amazing adventure that awaited them. Nonetheless, Melina was reluctant to get into the car, repeatedly jumping back out. She calmed down later, lying on my lap during the trip to the airport. Libby and Raina just wagged their tails in the back, thrilled to be going anywhere, while Flaco sat calmly with stoic patience. Jupiter tugged at his leash, barely able to contain his youthful enthusiasm. He’d be born in the shelter, and had never known anything else.
Maricarmen, the local volunteer for Seattle’s Wet Noses Dry Paws, met us at the airport with an assortment of dog carriers; and, with the friendly help of two porters, we soon got the larger dogs into the right-sized carriers, and sealed them with zip-ties. Lucky Jupiter got to just tag along with me on his leash.
Once inside the airport, we were ushered immediately to the special services desk. The agent behind the counter knew Barbara, Sue, and Maricarmen well, and the four of them took care of the paperwork with crisp efficiency. Barbara had been right: it was easy. I didn’t have to do anything. And Maricarmen told me how, once I arrived in Seattle, an airline agent would meet me on the plane, and shepherd me through all the logistics there, too.
But, what about getting Jupiter through security with me? That turned out to be easy, too. I put his small carrier through the scanner, picked him up and walked through the metal detector, then put him back on his leash on the other side. Yes, very easy! And then I got to walk through the airport to my gate with Jupiter prancing at my side, eliciting smiles from everyone we passed. The only hard part was finally putting him in his carrier just before boarding, worrying about how he’d behave cooped up in there during the flight. Would he fight to get out? Bark incessantly? Whimper pathetically? Jupiter slept the whole way.
I met the airline agent right off the plane. She directed me to the immigration pet-control office where the official quickly checked the documents I’d brought. Then, Jupiter and I headed out to meet the anxious adopter families at Oversized Baggage Claim.
And, that’s when disaster struck. One of the families and the two Wet Noses Dry Paws volunteers greeted me with confusion, looking down at the adorable little black Jupiter, “But, where’s Polly?” “Polly?” I replied. “There’s no Polly on this trip.” (Polly was Jupiter’s blonde sibling.) There’d been a mistake. My nightmare had turned out to be a premonition.
“Can we hold Jupiter?” the family’s youngest daughter asked while the volunteers and I conferred. We made some calls and learned that Polly had turned out to have grown too fast and become too big to fit into the small in-cabin carrier. Barbara and Sue had hastily chosen the runt of the litter, Jupiter, instead. But, with all the rushing and excitement of the trip, they’d forgotten to tell me or Wet Noses Dry Paws of the substitution. It fell to me to go back to the family with the bad news. I’d promise them that we could get Polly up to Seattle on the next flight angel trip. Could they forgive us, be patient?
The family, who were all on the ground cuddling Jupiter together, looked up at me and begged, “Well, can’t we please just keep this one?” Jupiter had already won their hearts.
That was only the beginning of the magic. After what seemed like an interminable wait (More so for the adopters. Some of them had driven hours to get to the airport, and then waited hours more.) the large dog carriers arrived. The adopters gathered around the carriers labeled with their dog’s name, while I went around to each one, telling them stories about their wonderful dogs. They snapped photos of their dogs’ faces, just visible through the screen doors.
Finally, when all the zip ties and tape had been removed, the dogs got out. Initially, they seemed stunned, overwhelmed. But soon enough, they wagged their tails and basked in all the attention. And the adopters’ faces were radiant with joy. What a blessed moment!
All too soon, the dogs and the adopters were gone, and there was nothing left for me to do but step outside and meet my brother. Could he understand that our meeting seemed anticlimactic to me? I’d exchanged contact information with some of the adopters, which turned out to be a real gift since, for the next few days, I received endearing photos of the dogs in their new homes...spoiled rotten all of them.
So, when can I be a flight angel again?