WESTBROOK, Maine — We hear a lot about dogs and cats being brought from the southern United States to shelters in Maine. How does a mission like that happen? It takes many hands on both ends of the journey and a nonprofit that connects it all: Wings of Rescue.
Moving day began at dawn for 55 dogs and 11 cats at the Concho Valley PAWS Animal Shelter in San Angelo, Texas. Among those about to make the flight was 10-week-old Demi, one of 8 pups in her litter. Along with all the others, she was crated and transported from the shelter onto a runway.
This mission came together quickly. A few days earlier, Jeana Roth, the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland's director of community engagement, was on a Zoom call with other shelters across the country.
"And somebody on the call mentioned, 'Hey, I just left a Texas shelter in St. Angelo; they have so many dogs. Hundreds of dogs. If anyone is looking to help or collaborate, send me a note,'" Roth recalled.
She reached out to the Texas shelter, knowing ARLGP could help. Her next call was to Wings of Rescue.
"This was the first time we called Ric and said, ‘Hey. We just got off a call with a shelter in San Angelo, Texas, and they are completely overwhelmed with dogs. And we really want to help. How can we make this connection?'" she said.
Ric Browde is the president of Wings of Rescue, a nonprofit that flies at-risk shelter pets from disaster areas and overcrowded shelters to safe-haven shelters that can give these dogs and cats a second chance at life.
"Patsy and Jeana called us and just said, 'Hey, can you help us?' And she just got to ‘Can you help,’ and we said, 'Yes,'" he said. "We didn’t even hear what it was. For a flight to the Animal Refuge League, we know we’re making these pets' lives just incredible and that they’re going to find really, really good homes. And that’s what it’s all about."
Browde is not a pilot but coordinates all Wings of Rescue flights and often travels on them. Wings of Rescue has transported over 62,000 animals in the last ten years.
In his previous life?
"I was a songwriter, record producer, and musician fortunate enough to sell about 29 million albums," Browde said.
He worked with rock n’ rollers like Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, and Poison.
"That’s what’s allowed me to do this for no money for the last ten years," he said with a laugh.
Browde became involved with Wings of Rescue and, by 2017, was president of the nonprofit. The organization has already flown 25 missions this year.
"We’ve responded to disasters all over North America," he said. "Earthquakes, fires, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes."
The Animal Refuge League has worked with the nonprofit many times before.
"Ric and Wings, what they do is amazing. They are saving lives across the country," Roth said.
On the morning of the mission, the ARLGP team had followed the flight's progress and was at the airport when it arrived.
Roth knows the work of Wings inspires their work here in Maine.
"I think when a Wings of Rescue flight lands, there’s just such an energy that comes with that for our team of staff and volunteers," she said. "You know, we all want to be there on that runway; we all want to help unload that plane. It’s energizing in a way that motivates us to do this work every day."
Once the plane landed, the team was ready to unpack the precious cargo. When the cargo door opened, you could hear the dogs' excitement.
Pilot Kale Garcia reported that all went well on the flight.
"Smooth, quiet, everybody settled down, went to sleep right away," Garcia said. "It was great. [A] couple of bumps [a] couple of hundred miles out they woke up and said hello and went back to sleep."
It only took minutes to load the crates into the waiting caravan of vehicles. For animals like Pint and Shady and all the others, the 2,000-mile journey brought them to the start of a new life here in Maine.
As long as he can help, Browde intends to keep these planes in the air.
"You’re saving lives. If I did a rock-n-roll album or a movie, eh, you know, it goes, it either succeeds or flops. Life goes on. But for these pets, life doesn’t go on if they don’t make the flight. It never gets old when you close the door to the airplane, and you just go, ‘Wow. These one hundred pets or whatever we’re carrying are safe.' And then you have this bit of trepidation because, as you know, you didn’t save them all. And you’ll never be able to save them all. But you made a dent, and you did something."
Demi and her littermates and all of the puppies on the flight will be available at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland on Tuesday, May 3.
To learn more about Wings of Rescue's work, click here.