Animal Rescue Mission

Pet air lift will transport animals to another world. Well, it will seem like it.
BY: LACEY STORER

It’s no secret that street dogs are a pervasive problem in this country. Earlier this year, Animal Heroes, a non-governmental organization in Mexico, estimated that there were about 23 million dogs living on the streets throughout the country. And while there are several shelters and organizations in Los Cabos that are working to find these animals homes, they are operating with limited supplies, volunteers, space and funding.

Local animal lover John Villegas is working on a solution to help these stray animals. But he doesn’t just want to get them off the streets; he wants to get them out of the country. He’s started the Pet Air Lift Baja Sur campaign to fly animals out of the overcrowded shelters here in Mexico, where prospects for adoption are limited, to shelters in the U.S. or Canada where they have better chances of being adopted.

dog_0.jpgVillegas is working with the U.S. based pet transport organization Wings of Rescue to organize the pet air lift. Wings of Rescue is a non-profit that has been transporting animals since 2012. So far, they’ve moved 26,000 pets to no kill shelters, and those animals spent an average of just 3.5 days in shelters before they were snapped up. Wings of Rescue uses a fleet of chartered cargo planes for its rescue missions, as well as volunteer pilots who fly their own planes.

Villegas, a California native who has been living in San Jose off and on for the past five years, first started volunteering his services with local rescue groups as a photographer. Going into the barrios with these groups, he saw people using chains, bailing wire or whatever else they had as dog collars and leases. He also saw extreme poverty, and the need for animal rescue on a much larger scale.

“I saw that the rescue groups go through pains to try and get animals out of here. They are all begging, begging, begging for pet escorts,” he says. “I’ve always been a guy who looks at the big picture and I thought there had to be a way to get a lot of animals out.”

Villegas just happened to see a post on Facebook about Wings of Rescue, and contacted them to organize an airlift here in Los Cabos.

Although escorting individual pets to the United States or Canada isn’t a new idea for Cabo residents, a transport effort of this size is. Villegas is hoping to get at least 50 animals (and possibly up to 180, which is the Wings of Rescue limit) out of the country. Villegas says all animals will be accepted, as long as they meet the health requirements. He’s arranging for a vet to give the animals checkups to certify they are healthy.

Villegas had hoped to have the air lift on June 15, which is the seasonal cut off date for airlines transporting animals in the cargo hold of their planes, but plans didn’t come together quickly enough for that date. As of now, there is no set date for the air lift, but Villegas wants to do it sooner rather than later. In the meantime, he’s working feverishly to secure funding for the air lift. He estimates it will cost about $18,000 USD, although that amount could be higher depending on the number of strays that are collected.

Villegas says that although it’s a lot of money, he knows people in Los Cabos have the means, and the desire, to help. “I know this community is capable,” he says. “There is so much money floating around here. And there are people looking for places to donate.” In addition to collecting donations from individuals, Villegas also hopes to secure corporate sponsorship from some of the resorts.

Villegas says that while this first pet air lift effort is a bit of an experiment, if it works he wants to make it a reoccurring event.

For information on how you can donate, or if you know of a stray animal that should catch a ride, visit the Pet Air lift Baja Sur Facebook page at facebook.com/PetAirLiftBajaMexico. ,