Santa Barbara may be a dog-friendly community but it’s not such a desirable haven for homeless dogs. To do her part to help, Montecito resident and animal activist Paula Bird recently organized an event on behalf of the nonprofit Wings of Rescue and its mission to aid in fostering and adopting rescue pets.
On Saturday, DAWG (Dog Adoption & Welfare Group) volunteers and more than 100 community animal lovers gathered at the FBO Signature Aviation operations (near the former Elephant Bar Restaurant) to participate in the very first Santa Barbara Operation Airlift. A breakfast of coffee and Danish also included 72 yapping dogs and lots of sniffing and barking. Volunteer pilots were stationed in the parking lot, where dogs were unloaded from their carriers and put on leashes for some last-minute exercise before takeoff.
“Santa Barbara, along with other dog shelters in Southern California, are overcrowded with dogs that drastically outnumber the homes available to them,” Bird explained.
“Thousands of pets are taken to animal shelters and spend their last days in overcrowded cages before most are euthanized. Most people think that Santa Barbara has no-kill shelters but it is more like slow kill.
“Some pets are victims of abuse or neglect and some are starving strays,” she added.
In 2009, pilot Yehuda Netanel founded Wings of Rescue to promote responsible pet ownership, educate the public on the benefits of spay/neuter operations, recruit volunteers for local shelters and raise funds.
Netanel, who was present at Saturday’s inaugural airlift, created an all-volunteer pilot organization whose sole purpose is to fly abandoned and discarded pets to rescue organizations throughout the West and western Canada, where they will find forever homes and new lives. In the last four years, he has rescued 6,500 dogs (and a few cats).
The dogs he rescues come to him in all shapes, sizes and ages.
“We cannot leave behind those who need love, including older dogs in their retirement years,” Netanel said.
In March, Netanel arranged for eight private planes to be at the FBO Van Nuys Airport for a Wings of Rescue mission. Another event took place earlier this year at the Long Beach Airport, where Steven Latham, producer of Shelter Me, filmed the rescue from the planning stage through the selection process to transportation and adoption for his compelling documentary about shelter pets. The series is scheduled to air on PBS in the fall.
After a short introduction for the gathered volunteers Saturday, the hope was to get all of the planes in the air by 11 a.m. so the pups could get to their new destinations by dinner time. All dogs are placed within two days of arriving at the new shelters after future owners are screened.
Financial donations are needed to sponsor a dog flight and to provide community support for future life-saving rescue services for animals whose futures are in jeopardy.