Staff and volunteers carry crates from the Wings of Rescue flight to waiting vans and vehicles for transport to the city's shelter. See more photos here.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Yipping could be heard as soon as the doors opened on the Wings of Rescue flight from Mobile, Ala.
Forty-two puppies took the four-hour plane ride to Pittsfield Municipal Airport on Wednesday in search of new homes through the Berkshire Humane Society. It was the first transfer flight to Pittsfield and the largest intake the animal shelter has taken.
The precious cargo was from an overcrowded shelter in Alabama. The Berkshire Humane Society will be housing 31 of these soon-to-be best friends while partner shelter Montgomery County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Amsterdam, N.Y., will welcome the rest.
"Our kennels are empty, why don't we do it right and be here to support them," BHS Executive Director John Perreault said about accepting the dogs. "We've found this is helping us save lives and people are excited."
After the dogs quarantine for 48 hours and are cleared by a veterinarian, they will be up for adoption at Barker Road shelter.
The cuddly passengers' crates were unloaded from the red, white and blue plane by volunteers and shelter staff and swiftly transferred to four vehicles, including a U-Haul truck, for the trip to the city animal shelter in the Downing Industrial Park. Cries of excitement could be heard from the pups as they peered out from the crates.
Perreault and Marketing & Communications Manager Catherine Hibbard led this event and made sure the process went smoothly.
The transport was made possible by the society's partnership with Haddad Subaru and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Haddad Subaru has been a longtime supporter of Berkshire Humane, providing a vehicle for the Subaru raffle every year and running a Pet of The Week program at the dealership.
A grant through Subaru and the SPCA will also help under write the costs of adoptions this month.
The SPCA worked with an overcrowded shelter in Alabama to organize this transport. Because of COVID-19, the Humane Society's kennels have been empty. With more residents of the Berkshires working from home and adapting to isolated lifestyles, pets are in high demand.
"We're the lucky shelter that gets to have them," Perreault said.
In the meantime, funds are being put into overpopulated shelters to help with spay/neuter programs as animals are transported. This process is saving lives because less overpopulation means that fewer animals will be euthanized.
"Those people work an incredible amount of hours doing an incredible amount of work but the volume of animals is just too much," Perreault said referring to the Alabama shelter.
The SPCA then had the dogs flown out by Wings of Rescue, an all-volunteer organization that flies large-scale transports of at-risk shelter pets from disaster situations and overcrowded shelters to places where there is empty kennel space.
When the flight arrived, 31 pooches were loaded into the Humane Society's transportation vehicles to be quarantined at the former Eleanor Sonsini shelter off Hubbard Avenue and the others made their way to Montgomery County.
At the quarantine center, the eager pups were released from their crates, allowed a long stretch, and are pampered following their flight.
Pilot Matt Potter said they took the flight in good form, although a few got sick. Priority Air Charter has done flights for Wings of Rescue before but this was Potter's first canine delivery.
"They were barking a lot before I started the engine, they calmed down as I was taxiing," he said. "About 5,000 feet it probably got cool enough that they decided to settle down for the flight, a lot of them starting taking nap at that point."
He was particularly taken with one puppy at the front who kept putting his paw up and took the dog's photo before his crate was taken away.
After 48 hours, if every dog is cleared by the veterinarian, they will be sent to the Barker Road facility to begin the process of finding their forever homes. Their crates will be cleaned and returned for the SPCA to reuse.
Perreault believes that this won't be a problem, as the shelter already has more than 60 applications from people looking for a new furry friend. He estimates that most of these pups will be adopted before they can be posted on the society's website.
August through October is usually Berkshire Humane Society's busiest times of the year, but it is currently at such a low capacity that the shelter could welcome these 31 dogs with no problem.
The society also operates the city shelter so the Hubbard Avenue facility is licensed by the state for quarantine. This space works out well for everyone because the dogs can be exercised and have space to move around. BHS staff prepared the location for the transport, doing repairs on the building as well laying down fresh grass in the yard so the pups will have a place to play.
For this quarantine process, an average of 12 volunteers and three staff are needed.
After the group is cleared as whole, they are put through a puppy personality test.
At first, Perreault wondered if this program was right for shelter because its sole purpose is to help animals in the area. But he changed his mind when the shelter began to receive a high volume of panicked calls from people who bought dogs online saying their animal is sick or has behavioral issues.
He resolved that these situations wound up in the shelter's hands anyway, so being the receiving shelter for this transport flight would mean that Berkshire County residents could adopt dogs that are micro-chipped, spayed or neutered, monitored for temperament, and medically cleared.
Berkshire Humane hopes to bring more transport flights into Pittsfield, but to do so it needs to partner with more shelters to house a portion of the dogs because they can't take them all at once.
Hibbard explained that the easiest way to adopt one of these cuties is to have an application on file as well as having a positive veterinarian reference. The shelter looks for owners who have their animals up to date on vaccinations, as this shows that they are responsible owners.
"We ask people to fill out an application beforehand and have it ready," she said. "And if you have other animals, have them up to date on all their vaccinations because that is how the applications get approved, with good vet references."
Adoption counselors at Berkshire Humane do a great deal of matchmaking between prospective owners and pets. They access their needs such the energy level that is wanted in a pet, if there are children or other animals in the household, and what the applicant's experience is as a pet owner.
During COVID-19, a lot of these matchmaking appointments are done over the phone and meet and greets are done in the facility's large classroom that has plenty of space for social distancing.
The best way to inquire about these dogs is to fill out an application on the Humane Society's website.
https://berkshirehumane.org/ or call the shelter to speak to an adoption counselor at 413-447-7878, Ext. 126.
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