Cozumel dogs take off!
This report filed by International Fund for Animal Welfare's Companion Animal Director - Kate Atema, who was with the team in Cozumel and has now headed to Longmont, Colorado, to meet the plane on its arrival at the final destination.
Today was one of those days when everything comes together, and you realize that all our hard work - the planning, and planning and planning, which all seemed so theoretical a week ago - finally met the real animals whose lives we were changing forever.
The day started early for everyone. The IFAW team split up - half of us went to the shelter to start getting the dogs prepared for their big international flight, and the rest went with the pilot to help him negotiate the various permits and fees imposed by the airport (again!).
When we arrived at the shelter, the dogs were beside themselves. They knew something was up, and they were full of impish glee at the change in routine and all the special attention. Several volunteers were already there, ready to tackle the challenge of this mischievious bunch with a strategy of their own: a long tiring walk in the early morning heat of Cozumel.
By the time everyone returned, we had 9 dogs that were full of kisses but mostly willing to stand still long enough for us to put temporary emergency-contact collars on them, just in case anyone escaped anywhere between the Cozumel shelter and Colorado.
Then it was time to load the animals into cars, trucks and vans for the short trip to the municipal airport. One minor hurdle: the staff had to say good bye. Some of these dogs have been at the shelter in Cozumel for over a year, so they have grown pretty attached. The most touching moment was when Mario, the shelter manager, traded his I ? Cozumel t-shirt for a new one so that he could sent his shirt, and his scent, along with a special little pup called Nano.
At the airport, there was a lot more waiting while the airport staff tried to figure out what to make of us! A private plane with 3 humans and 9 dogs! Nobody could quite figure out what procedure to follow, so they pretty much followed all of them. After much discussion, the truck with the dogs was allowed to drive out to the plane, but the rest of us had to go through security to meet them on the other side. The plane was checked, all the permissions obtained, and the loading process began.
Have you ever seen someone load a van's worth of gear into a Honda Civic? That's what watching our pilot load up that plane was like. At first, you couldn't believe more than two dogs would fit in there, but like Mary Poppins, he just kept pulling out crates, one after another, until we had 8 of them lined up on the tarmac. Two dogs (best friends) got to ride together in the biggest, then Nano, complete with his I ? Cozumel shirt, then another, and another…until we had 9 dogs comfortably sitting aboard the plane, ready to start their adventure.
When the plane door closed and the prop started up, it hit me: we did it. Those amazing dogs, all of whom I had grown attached to in the past 24 hours, were getting a second chance. I think we all had tears in our eyes as we watched the little plane turn around, taxi, and then lift up into the late morning sky. They were on their way.
I'm told that everyone made it to New Orleans tonight after a long but safe flight. The dogs are sleeping soundly (we hope!) in kennels generously offered by a vet clinic there. Tomorrow we enter phase II of this grand adventure: arrival in Longmont, Colorado! As I looked around the wide flat spaces and up at the towering peaks here this evening, I couldn't help but think that if I were a dog, I'd want to be sent here too.
For more information visit: www.ifaw.org. Stay tuned for news on tomorrow's big arrival to Longmont, Colorado!