Local News

Friday, May 30 2014 05:26 PM

Shelter dogs take flight toward freedom

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Local workers and volunteers load up the dogs for their flights to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  2. 2 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Four small dogs are ready for their trip to Oregon and Washington Friday via volunteer pilots from Wings of Rescue.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Five dogs, all tagged for their new homes, await loading Friday morning at the Epic Jet Center in Bakersfield.

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  4. 4 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Angie Sierra of Bakersfield City Animal Care Center takes two dogs to their airplane prior to their departure to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  5. 5 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Local workers and volunteers load up the dogs for their flights to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

    click to expand click to collapse
  6. 6 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Three pilots have their planes ready for departure from the Epic Jet Center in Bakersfield to fly to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  7. 7 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Wings of Rescue pilot Yahuda Netanel chats with local media prior to departing from the Epic Jet Center to deliver rescued dogs to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  8. 8 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Wings of Rescue pilot Yahuda Netanel checks his plane before takeoff from the Epic Jet Center to deliver rescued dogs to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  9. 9 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Julie Johnson, director of Bakersfield City Animal Care Center, talks with local media about the dogs' trip to Washington and Oregon from Epic Jet Center in Bakersfield.

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  10. 10 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Erin Posey, right, of Epic Jet Center, and Julie Johnson, director of Bakersfield City Animal Care Center, talk with local media before the dogs' flight to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  11. 11 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Erin Posey, right, of Epic Jet Center, and Julie Johnson, director of Bakersfield City Animal Care Center watch as the dogs are ready for loading for their flight to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  12. 12 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Ziggy, a pit bull mix, is loaded, tagged and ready to go before his flight Friday morning from Epic Jet Center in Bakersfield.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Workers from Kern County Animal Services help with tagging each dog kennel before their departure to Washington and Oregon Friday morning.

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  14. 14 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Wings of Rescue pilot Yahuda Netanel, right, talks with Julie Johnson,left, director of Bakersfield City Animal Care Center about Friday's flight to Washington and Oregon. In the center are Linda Hodges, left, of Taft and Angela Stevens of Bakersfield.

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  15. 15 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    A volunteer's stickers on a vehicle says it all. Wings of Rescue partnered with Kern County Animal Services and others to fly dogs to Oregon and Washington Friday morning.

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  16. 16 of 16

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Olga and Dale Newlove from Unity Thrift Rescue of Taft get one of the dogs ready to travel with Wings of Rescue Friday morning.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

It isn't a sound one typically hears on the tarmac of Bakersfield's busiest airport.

Yip-yip!

Related Info

HOW TO HELP SHELTER PETS

* Foster or adopt

* Promote responsible pet ownership

* Spay/neuter

* Volunteer at a shelter

* Donate dollars or small crates for transport

For more information about participating organizations, or to donate:

Wings of Rescue: WingsofRescue.org

Unity Thrift Rescue in Taft: Suzi Baker at 331-0420.

Have a Heart Humane Society in Tehachapi: email: haveaheart@bak.rr.com

Kern County Animal Services: http://www.co.kern.ca.us/acd

Yap-yap!

Arf! Arf!

Multiply those sounds by a hundred and one can imagine the cacophony that greeted reporters at Meadows Field airport Friday morning as more than 100 dogs from local shelters were loaded aboard three planes bound for the Pacific Northwest.

The fate of many of these animals might well have been euthanasia and a quick, efficient cremation.

But on Friday, thanks to volunteer pilots, donations of fuel and dollars, and a partnership between local shelters, animal control agencies and the nonprofit group Wings of Rescue, 107 dogs were in the air Friday morning and on their way to what organizers say are secure, loving homes in Oregon and Washington.

"Hundreds of thousands of animals in Southern and Central California are being euthanized every year," said Yehuda Netanel, Wings of Rescue's founder and pilot in command.

"These are perfectly healthy, loving animals," he said.

The Southern California-based organization flies twice a week to locations in the Pacific Northwest -- including British Columbia, Idaho, Washington and Oregon -- where there's a demand for adoptable pets.

In the four years since its founding, Netanel and his crew of volunteer pilots have flown more 6,500 dogs and cats to safety, many from Kern County, where the record of abandoned and unwanted pets has not always been a happy one.

But on Friday, staff from Kern County Animal Services and Bakersfield's City Animal Care Center were working alongside volunteers from Taft-based Unity Thrift Rescue and Tehachapi-based Have a Heart Rescue.

It was no accident the event unfolded at Epic Jet Center, where owner Erin Posey donated not only her time and business resources, but fuel for the planes.

"These guys are donating their time," she said of the three pilots flying Friday's canine cargo.

"It breaks my heart," she said of the thousands of potential pets that will never find themselves wrapped in the arms of a delighted child or counted as part of a loving family.

But Posey was elated by Friday's efforts, and wasn't shy about sending out a friendly challenge to local pilots to join the effort. She didn't mention names, but she suggested they know who they are.

"I'm speaking of specific tenants" of Epic, she said, smiling.

The county of Kern has struggled with a gargantuan animal control problem for decades. And many animal advocates say the problem will never be solved until an aggressive spay-neuter program is established that makes the procedure cheap, readily available and mandatory for the majority of pet owners.

But such top-down mandates can be expensive -- and unpopular in Kern. So local agencies have embraced more moderate spay/neuter efforts and attempts by Wings of Rescue and other groups to reduce the number of animals that must be put down every year.

Still, pet overpopulation remains a major concern in Kern, said county Animal Services spokeswoman Maggie Kalar.

The county is making progress with Board of Supervisors-funded spay/neuter programs, but the effects won't be seen for many years, she said.

In the meantime, partnerships with rescue organizations are "instrumental in saving the lives of unwanted pets in our community," Kalar said.

"No one agency can solve the problem," she said. "But together we can make a difference."

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