Ann Zaniewski Detroit Free Press
Published 8:45 PM EST Feb 14, 2019
It was a Valentine’s Day treat for 91 pint-sized dogs — the start of a new life.
Big smiles and lots of love greeted the pups on a chilly Thursday evening at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. A team of volunteers gently moved them, crate by crate, off an airplane and into waiting vehicles that would take them to local animal rescues.
The dogs had just finished a nearly six-hour flight from Fresno, California, courtesy of the nonprofit Wings of Rescue. Out West, they faced a high risk of being euthanized in overcrowded shelters.
“These dogs, if they didn’t go to Michigan, a lot of them would be dead by this weekend,” said Ric Browde, president of Wings of Rescue.
Browde said an overpopulation of small dogs in California shelters and a shortage of — and demand for — small dogs in metro Detroit led to the unique cross-country mission.
About 80 percent of the plane’s passengers were Chihuahuas or Chihuahua mixes.
Wings of Rescue, in partnership with GreaterGood.org, funded the flight. Compassion Without Borders spearheaded the selection of the dogs and provided preflight health checks.
Four local rescue groups — the Michigan Humane Society, Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit, Midwest Small Breed Rescue and the Michigan Animal Rescue League — took in the dogs. They could be ready for adoption as soon as next week.
“My husband just told me to not bring any of them home,” said Mary Frances McCaleb, a humane society volunteer from Birmingham, laughing as she waited for the plane to arrive. She wore rubber gloves and boots, prepared to help clean out the carriers.
“I said, ‘I’ve got three pockets, honey, and these are Chihuahuas!’ ”
The Pilatus PC-12 turboprop plane landed at 6 p.m.
As the husband and wife volunteer pilot team of Angela Keeling and Kale Garcia opened the side door, small faces peered out from stacks of carriers. Barking and crying filled the cold Michigan air.
The volunteers sprang into action, working quickly and carefully to unload the dogs. They placed the carriers on the ground in groups according to the dogs’ color-coded collars. Pieces of tape on the carriers had handwritten names like Judy, Chloe and Clyde.
Garcia, of Bend, Oregon, said the work is important.
“It’s a very, very nice, comforting thing to do,” Garcia said. “You open that door, and you know that there are just a bunch of people on the other side of the door that are just full of love and caring hearts, ready to take the animals.”
Fourteen of the dogs were headed to the Dearborn-based Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit.
Katie Johnson, director of operations for the shelter, said food, water and warm blankets awaited the weary travelers.
“I think they’ll be adopted really quickly, and find great, loving homes,” she said.
Contact Ann Zaniewski: 313-222-6594 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @AnnZaniewski.
How to adopt
People interested in adopting the dogs can reach out to the Michigan Humane Society at 866-MHUMANE, the Michigan Animal Rescue League at 248-335-9290, the Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit at 313-943-2697, or the Midwest Small Breed Rescue at www.midwestsmallbreedrescue.com
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