Take A Flight, Save A Life

Pet escorts help rescue animals get to their new homes
BY: JOHN DOOLITLLE

It’s no secret that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of animals here in Los Cabos that are living in shelters and looking to find a good home. But what many people don’t realize is that there is a way they can help those animals get into new homes, without having to adopt the animals themselves. All they have to do is volunteer to be a pet escort.

2226petravel.JPGMany shelters here in Los Cabos work with other shelters and rescue groups in the U.S. and Canada to find homes for animals. And while it can be easy to find people who are willing to adopt these animals, the problem is getting them from Mexico to their new home country. That’s where the pet escorts come in; if someone is flying out of Los Cabos and happens to be going to a destination where an adoptive family lives, they can take an animal with them and get them to their new home.

Suzanne Hein, who’s been working with the Los Cabos Humane Society for about three and a half years and recently joined the board of directors, started her own animal rescue group in Portland, Oregon, in order to help coordinate pet transports. She says pet escorts play a big part in getting the animals adopted, because each animal has to have a human escort. The dogs can’t just be shipped. And while her rescue group, Rescue Faerie, does make trips down specifically to pick up pets, having escorts who are already flying back from Cabo is a big help.

“It saves us so much money if somebody is on vacation and just wants to fly back and do something good for the world,” she says.

While the process might vary slightly, depending on which animal rescue you’re working with (for example, some groups will make the animal’s airline reservation for you, others require that you do it) the overall procedure is the same. Basically, the rescue group handles most of the work, and all you need to do is show up on time, check the animal in for the flight, take them through Customs once you’re back in the States (and if you have a layover, you have to recheck the animals), and then hand the animal over to the volunteer that’s waiting for you at the airport.

“We take the load and the weight and the worry off the escort,” says local animal lover and pet escort coordinator John Villegas, “because we want to make it easy for them.” Suzanne says that once people do their first animal transport, and realize how easy it is, they’re usually willing to do it again.

The majority of the time, there is no cost for the pet escort, although Isabelle Tiberghien, president of Baja SAFE, says that she has seen a few cases where the escort has to pay an entry fee of $35 USD upon arrival, but that fee is reimbursed to them immediately.

Showing up to the airport on time is a key part in being a pet escort. Animals have to be checked in at least two hours before their flights, so if you’re the type of traveler who likes to wait until the last minute to get to the airport, then pet escorting probably isn’t for you.

And, of course, showing up period is a must. If someone volunteers to be a pet escort but then changes their minds at the last minute, misses their flight or, in one instance that Suzanne has seen, shows up early, checks in and goes through security before the animal has even gotten to the airport, then all of the work that went into coordinating the transport is wasted. And that could also mean the difference between the dog getting transported and getting adopted versus staying here in Mexico, where the chances of getting adopted are gloomy.

Suzanne and her husband have transported as many as eight dogs at a time. With volunteer pet escorts, though, it’s up to them how many they feel comfortable taking. For most people, that’s one or two dogs. Suzanne says many people feel bad they can’t take more, but what they don’t realize is that for every dog they escort, they’re clearing a spot in a home for another dog back here in Mexico.

“When they’re taking one dog, they’re actually saving two dogs, because they just made space for another dog to come into the shelter,” she says.

Isabelle echoes that sentiment. “It is an important part of the whole process, from rescuing the animals in the streets to getting them to their final destination for adoption.”

Currently, Suzanne, John and Isabelle are working with Alaska Airlines to fly animals out of Mexico, as they are the only airline that doesn’t have a heat embargo in the summer. They have climate controlled cargo areas in their airplanes, so there’s no concern about the animals getting overheated.

If you’re flying out of Los Cabos on Alaska in the next couple months and want to volunteer to be a pet escort, you can contact Suzanne at rescuefaerie@outlook.com; Isabelle at ET.SAFE@hotmail.com; or visit John’s pet escort Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/flyabajarescuepet.