Nearly 200 pets, dogs and cats rescued from hurricane-battered Puerto Rico arrived by plane in Worcester late Wednesday night.
The animals were picked up in San Juan early Wednesday morning by non-profit organization Wings of Rescue, which donated the plane and time. The aircraft arrived with supplies for the people of Puerto Rico and left with all 194 abandoned, stray or unwanted animals.
Shelter workers and volunteers as well as the flight crew unloaded the animals in dozens of crates at Worcester Regional Airport, before they were taken to facilities to be in isolation in preparation for adoption.
“It’s emotional. I get teary-eyed thinking about it, because these dogs have been through so much,” said Leigh Grady, executive director of Sterling Animal Shelter. “These dogs are truly getting a second opportunity and a new ‘leash on life,’ basically. So we are just beyond excited.”
All Sato Rescue organized the effort in Puerto Rico, working with New England shelters, which helped pay for jet fuel with donations. Also provided by Mission Miracle K-9 Rescue and ILoveMyDogSoMuch.com.
“They’re working with no electricity down there, no water, no cell phones. I mean, communication with Puerto Rico is really difficult,” said Lisa Barker of The Boxer Rescue of Grafton, who wept as her dogs arrived.
“Limited supplies, limited access to anything, and to get this many dogs up on a plane and get them up here is amazing; and we’re grateful, really grateful.”
The pilot himself, Derek Harbaugh, was in tears as he reunited with awaiting dog, Pinky, whom he had helped rescue from Storm-ravaged St. John last week.
“When we took her off the airplane, she was last. And when I took her off the truck, I was like, ‘Dang it, that’s my dog,'” said Harbaugh, who made a call and arranged to adopt Pinky after she arrived in New Hampshire. “This has been one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Some animals already have homes lined up, while others will be adopted as early as this weekend.