On Jan. 20, volunteers packed a Southwest Airlines plane at Baltimore–Washington International Airport with 14,400 of pounds of supplies. There were paper towels and cleaning supplies, non-perishable food, and tarps, pet food, collars, and leashes.
Then 10 volunteers from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue and an all-volunteer staff from Southwest boarded the plane and set off for San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Volunteers unload crates and supplies after landing. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
When they landed, the scene was "organized chaos," as everyone scrambled to unload the supplies and then get the return cargo ready to board, Lucky Dog Founder and Executive Director Mirah Horowitz tells MNN. The new passengers? Dozens of animals in need of new homes.
Local volunteers arrived with the dogs they had saved after the hurricane. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
There were several dozen volunteers in Puerto Rico waiting with 62 cats and dogs they had fostered since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island four months earlier.
Many of the animals were strays — known as "satos" on the island. Others were surrendered by families who no longer had the resources to care for them. The dogs ranged from young mixed breed puppies and Scottish terriers to bully breeds and purebred Labrador retrievers.
Dozens of volunteers prepare the animals for their trip. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
The animals were checked in and their medical records were reviewed as crates were quickly assembled.
"If you weren't holding a dog, you were assembling a crate," Horowitz says. "Then we were loading the dogs into crates, then loading the dogs into the van to carry the dogs to the plane."
A woman says goodbye to a dog before it boards the flight to the U.S. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
The fosters tearfully said goodbye to their dogs and cats, hugging them and putting them in the crates, before sending them off to a new world, and a new life.
Dogs and cats are loaded onto the plane. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography and Team Lucky Dog)
The animals were loaded onto the 737, their crates tucked onto the seats. Most were pretty calm during the flight, Horowitz says, with only some cats meowing during takeoff and a few pups barking during landing. Most of the rest slept through the nearly four-hour flight, lulled to sleep by the hum of the engines.
A dog and cat get some well-deserved snuggles on the plane. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
A few volunteers cuddled puppies and cats during the flight, not so much because the animals needed comforting, but because who doesn't want to snuggle with a furry friend given a chance?
These chill puppies relaxed with the flight crew after landing. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
Upon landing back in Baltimore, everyone was unloaded and whisked away in vans to head back to Lucky Dog's home base in Arlington, Virginia, their first stop before reaching their eagerly awaited foster and forever homes. So far, about one-third of the dogs and cats have found permanent families and happy new lives.
A happy dog arrives from Puerto Rico. (Photo: Shelley Castle Photography, JP Photography, and Team Lucky Dog)
But the rescue's work is far from done, Horowitz says. Southwest was ridiculously generous with the plane. In fact, she points out, the airline had already delivered 10,500 pounds of supplies for the rescue on three other flights before this one.
Now they are raising money to charter a small plane to return to Puerto Rico and bring back more animals.