Wildfire refugees: Shelter dogs airlifted from California to Cranbrook

California wildfires are placing immense pressure on animals shelters. Cranbrook steps in to help

A remarkable airlift of animals from an overcrowded California shelter touched down in Cranbrook Sunday evening, December 17, bringing 32 dogs to Canada and to new forever homes.

The Wings of Rescue flight from Camarillo brought the dogs in from the Ventura County Animal Services shelter (VCAS), which has seen its population of animals swell by hundreds over a matter of days, due to the devastation caused by the wildfires burning across southern California.

In an effort to help out, Karla Shalley, who operates Playpen Boarding And Grooming in Cranbrook, and Jaffray’s Deb Therrien, who heads up the Calgary Chapter of BARCS, a dog rescue service, took on the arrangement of the flight to Canada and the transfer of the dogs to new homes in Cranbrook, Jaffray and Calgary.

“Last Friday, I had an idea that I needed to help the animals in California,” Shalley said. “I was literally going to rent a van to drive down there and help them.”

Instead, Shalley started working with Therrien on the plan, and things went forward quickly.

“We brainstormed, [Therrien] said ‘let me see what I can do’ and that’s where it started.”

Therrien, through her own contacts with Ventura Animal Rescue Services, was able to arrange the Wings of Rescue flight from Camarillo to Cranbrook.

“They made the magic happen,” Shalley said. “They picked some dogs, they said ‘do you want these ones,’ we said ‘yes, we’ll take them up.’”

Wings of Rescue — a charity that flies endangered pets to new locations where they can be adopted — was able to make the transition quickly — within the week, Shalley said. The plane took off from Camarillo Sunday morning, after delays caused by wildfire smoke, carrying the dogs in portable kennels, and touched down at the Canadian Rockies International Airport (CRIA) late afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 17

Shalley, Therrien, and a team of volunteers were there to welcome the dogs to Canadian soil.

Therrien moved from Calgary to Jaffray in recent years, taking the opportunity to expand BARCS area of operations. She said the havoc wrought by the California fires have put massive pressure on animal shelters. The big VCAS shelter, for example, normally has a population of around 400 animals. This number quickly rose to 800 when the fires started burning. At present there are some 1,100 animals in the shelter — who’ve become separated from their owners or whose homes have been destroyed. The Thomas Fire burning though Ventura County, where Camarillo is located, has destroyed some 114,000 acres (more than 46,000 hectares). BARCS, Wings of Rescue and other organizations have been working to help relieve the pressure and find homes for the unclaimed animals, with flights all over North America. The Cranbrook flight was the biggest Canadian operation to date.

On Sunday afternoon, the plane landed at CRIA, and the team of volunteers pushed it into the ELT Aviation hanger. The volunteers had spent an hour in advance arranging the travel kennels for each of the dogs to be transferred to.

Customs officials were on hand to check the paperwork. Such an operation as a cross-border animal shelter airlift requires a great deal of preparation.

Therrien said that all the dogs have had to pass a rigorous battery of health certificate tests, and are completely up to date with their shots. And it is essential that they were calm and healthy before getting on the plane.

“If they are sick, or acting out, they will not get on the plane,” Therrien said.

From the plane, the volunteers unloaded the dogs in their cages and placed them on the hanger floor, so the paperwork could be checked, and the dogs transferred one at a time, to their Canadian travel kennels. The four dogs going to Calgary — all pitbulls — were given quick walks around the hanger prior to departure.

Many different breeds were represented in the airlift — pitfalls, border collies, terriers, a schnauzer cross, a chocolate lab, chihuahuas … bearing names like Biscuit and Bandit, Molly, Mary, Martini and Max. The dogs were calm and subdued after their flight, though a chorus of barking soon rang out throughout the hanger. When released from their cages, for a brief stretch, the canines joy and relief was palpable.

Shalley stressed that the dogs flown to Canada were dogs who would not be claimed by former owners, who had been in the shelter before the fires began.

“These are dogs who have been surrendered and are available for adoption,” she said. “Strictly dogs who will not be reclaimed.”

The dogs did who did not go on to Calgary Sunday night were off for a sojourn at the Playpen in Cranbrook for a couple of days, to stretch their legs.

“We’re going to assess them, take a look at their behaviour … some of them, due to the expediency of this operation, are still intact, and need to be spayed or neutered. And because of that they’ll be staying with us at the Playpen for a while until they get their surgery.

“Then we’re looking for forever homes.”

Shalley said that over the past week, there has been a great feedback from the local public.

“A lot of people have wanted to meet the dogs, and we’ve had a great response in terms of donations from the community. People have really stepped up.”

For more information on the Cranbrook dog rescue efforts, you can go to the Playpen’s Facebook Page — “The Playpen- Pet Boarding & Grooming” in the search bar.


Just Posted

Minard sixth as banked slalom debuts at Paralympics

Spallumcheen wheelchair curler Ina Forrest denied bid for third career Paralympics gold

Rockies give it their all in final game

Rockies wrap up most successful season in years

Headed to provincials full of community pride

Bantams team represents East Kootenay at Provincials in Kitimat

A couch-surfing couple and a band of childhood friends to perform at High Notes Music Festival

Festival takes place March 23rd to 25th at Panorama Mountain Resort

BC Chamber comes with praise for local organization, boosts BC-wide message

Val Litwin promotes BC Chamber in talk to local members

Coffee Fest brewed to perfection

5th annual event last weekend in Invermere

Wartime Wednesdays

Local author Elinor Florence explores the stories of veterans

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Salmon Arm community cheers on Natalie Wilkie as she wins first gold medal

Local skier tops the podium in 7.5km race at the PyeongChang Paralympics

Experts: Society has a role in trying to prevent domestic violence

Experts are speaking out following the murder of a woman and her son in Ontario

Progress on fixing Phoenix pay system backlog could be short-lived: Ottawa

Feds have said they won’t try to recover money overpaid until all outstanding issues are fixed

Northern lights chasers in Canada discover new type named ‘Steve’

Phenomenon linked to a powerful current created by charged particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere

Washington state backs B.C. in pipeline dispute

Governor Jay Inslee says he is ‘allied’ with the province on Trans Mountain expansion projection

SAY WHAT? Readers weigh in on high-speed rail to U.S.

B.C. to contribute $300,000 to a million-dollar business study on the proposed project

Most Read