Hundreds of Southern California dogs housed in so-called high-kill shelters are getting their chance to get out, and a new chance at life.
A partnership between several animal rescue groups started before dawn Friday at Van Nuys airport, using private charter planes to transport hundreds of dogs to no-kill shelters in Washington, Idaho, Montana and New York.
"What we’re excited about and what anyone can be a part of is we're saving lives," said Steven Latham, creator of the Fly Me Home campaign.
Hundreds of dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages were loaded into more than a dozen planes, en route for what organizers hope will be their “furrever” home.
"It is better than exciting for these lucky 600 dogs," said Melanie Pozez, founder of the group Bark Avenue Foundation. "I have to tell you it is an amazing opportunity to make 600 families very happy on the other end."
Before takeoff, all of the dogs took one last chance to stretch their legs and get one last hug from caregivers.
"We love what we do, (but) we wish we didn't have to do it," said Yehuda Netanel, founder of the Wings of Rescue organization. "This is a combination of the love of the animals and the love of flying."
The team effort to save these dogs is part of a drive to help save some of the millions of animals euthanized every year. Organizers said while the numbers at Los Angeles Animal Services are improving, more than 30,000 were put down in the last five years.
Excitement and enthusiasm ruled the day Friday, with volunteers noting that dogs transported to these kinds of shelters are typically adopted within two weeks, and many will have new families by Christmas.
"Right now everyone is in the mode 'no dogs left behind' but once the plane starts taxiing down the runway, everyone will let out a collective sigh of 'ah.' You'll see a lot of tears," Latham said.
But the dream is that more people will spay and neuter their pets, so similar rescue operations won’t be needed.
"We hope one day to be put out of business," Latham said.