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24 hurricane-impacted pets from Puerto Rico, Florida land in Kalamazoo

The multi-faceted effort set on relocating animals hopes that all of them will soon find their forever home.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — After flights that took 124 sheltered pets from Puerto Rico and Florida to Chicago, a total of 24 remaining rescued dogs impacted by hurricanes Fiona and Ian found themselves touching ground in West Michigan.

The move was part of a collaborative effort involving the BISSELL Pet Foundation and Wings of Rescue. They were in partnership with PetSmart Charities.

The airlifts, which began Sunday morning, worked to free up shelter space in San Juan, Puerto Rico by taking pets that had been sheltered prior to Hurricane Fiona, Wings of Rescue President and CEO Ric Browde said.

“We took these pets that were facing euthanasia and we brought them on this flight, and we stopped in Naples, Florida and then picked up some pets who had been displaced by Hurricane Ian. Those too, had been in the shelters prior to the hurricane, and we made room for incoming pets in Fort Myers and Naples as well.”

This flight is just one of many transports from the Humane Society of Naples, BISSELL Pet Foundation spokesperson Brittany Schlacter said.

“The pets from Puerto Rico from the SATO Project, and they were homeless as well,” she added. “Again, these are hurricane impacted areas. So they've been waiting at the shelter for a long time. And they're they're doing the same thing that they are doing in Florida, just making space for anybody who has lost their pets, they can be nearby to hopefully reclaim them and find their pets faster.”

The 24 pets were taken to the SPCA of Southwest Michigan and are expected to be ready to adopt within a week. Executive Director Katie Timber said their shelter was already full before the transport, but it was important to make room.

“Right now, shelters nationally are in a state of crisis with limited access to veterinary care -- national adoptions are down,” Timber said. “We understand the gravity of how a hurricane Ian really affected the shelters. So for us going to our community and saying, ‘Hey, can you guys open your homes in your hearts so we can help these other shelters out to save these lives?’ There aren't words for it -- it's extremely meaningful. And we know that we'll be able to place these dogs and good homes in our Michigan communities that really make a difference.”

Timber joined a handful of individuals who unloaded the rescues from the plane that carried the 24. Though many showed a sense of unease, many eventually began wagging their tails.

“I'm always so moved at how kind and loving and resilient they can be, because today is really looking at an animal and its most vulnerable state,” Timber said. “They've been through a hurricane. They've been on a plane they've been -- who knows where they originated from, and yet, they can still show us that affection and love. So it is just a privilege to do the work that I get to do.”

The SPCA of Southwest Michigan can be reached at (269) 344-1474 or on their website.

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