More than 90 stray and abandoned cats and dogs in Merced County no longer have to feel unloved.
Those animals hopped on a flight at Atwater’s Castle Airport on Tuesday, destined for Everett, Wash., where they will be placed in local shelters or groups, and eventually adopted by loving homes.
The flight was made possible thanks to Wings of Rescue, a donation-based charity that utilizes chartered cargo planes to transport at-risk shelter animals from overcrowded shelters and disaster zones.
It’s a common affair, said Gene Gable, media relations representative for Wings of Rescue.
“It’s not unusual for pets to be transported this kind of distance, usually it happens by truck and what makes us unique is that we do it by plane so it’s a lot faster, a lot safer for the pets,” Gable said. “We always use pressurized temperature-controlled planes. The quicker you get them there, the less stress and drama there is with the pets.”
Wings of Rescue partnered with New Beginnings for Merced County Animals to make Tuesday’s transport possible.
New Beginnings for Merced County Animals is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping stray and abandoned animals at various Merced County locations. They don’t have a shelter, so they typically find Merced County residents to foster the pets until they can find them permanent homes.
Last year alone, the nonprofit rescued around 6,000 animals, said Jennifer Aanstad, a New Beginnings volunteer and board member.
Tuesday’s transport was a way of “reducing our numbers of suffering and unwanted animals and animals that don’t have other options,” Aanstad said.
While there is no shortage of stray animals looking for loving homes in Merced County and the Valley, Gable said Tuesday’s transport allowed Wings of Rescue to address a pet shortage issue that exists in the Pacific Northwest. Plus, the demand for pets has generally gone up since the pandemic started.
“It’s a problem that takes a while to fix and we’re positive about everybody’s efforts in the process,” Gable said. “We just want to get them to the homes they can go to and be placed right away.”
In 2021 alone, Wings of Rescue has done 32 flights, transporting more than 2,600 pets. In 2020, they did 121 flights, transporting 9,235 pets.
Kale Garcia, was the pilot for Tuesday’s flight, and he has flown planes for Wings of Rescue for several years. Each flight is special to him because it means more animals can be helped.
“It’s super cool to watch the change in the animals when you load them on and you sense they don’t know what’s going on, (then) they get done with the flight and meet loving people,” Garcia said.
Shelters across the country, as far as New York and New Jersey, have also used Wings of Rescue’s services.
Gable said he anticipates more shelters will take advantage of the flights to help more animals go to loving homes.
“I think the nature, the sort of supply chain of the animals is really growing and becoming an organized thing. (Plane transportation is) going to change the nature of animal rescue to continue to have the ability to easily and efficiently move pets from one location to another,” Gable said.
“It’s great to help on a local level with your local shelter, but it’s exciting to be a part of something that’s broadening the whole rescue business.”