Ten “very adoptable” cats and dogs from hurricane-stricken Texas started their new lives in the Wood River Valley on Friday evening after a flight from the nonprofit Dog Is My CoPilot dropped them at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.
The transport from a shelter in San Antonio to shelters in Boise, Hailey and Jackson, Wyo., was one of dozens flown each year by Dog Is My CoPilot president and founder Peter Rork, 64, a former Ketchum resident and retired orthopedic surgeon who now lives in Jackson. Rork began Friday with a 5:30 a.m. Central Time wakeup, loaded his plane at 6 a.m. and was airborne by 6:30 a.m. He flew about 10 hours across west Texas, over New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and eventually into Idaho.
“A lot of orthopedic surgeons retire to the golf course. Me? I worked my way through medical school as a pilot, I’ve always had dogs and this is the perfect combination,” Rork said. “People in the South are completely overrun, and they have three choices—they can adopt their animals, they can transport their animals or they can slaughter their animals. Now, they like to call it ‘euthanasia,’ which is a pretty-sounding name, but they’re still killing otherwise perfectly healthy and adoptable animals.”
Rork said air travel makes it feasible to transport animals to the northern U.S., where pet overpopulation is less severe, because driving the animals thousands of miles is often impossible for shelters.
“The pet overpopulation is a daily issue, and we fly 500 hours a year hauling dogs out of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California, the Central Valley of California, and then fly them up north,” Rork said. “It seems that the dividing line of understanding what ‘spay and neuter’ means runs through Denver and Salt Lake City.”
Hillary Hayward, behavior and training coordinator for the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, said this transport was the third such rescue in the past two weeks, and the transports “avoid euthanasia in high-kill shelters, and we can be that kind of relief to get these amazing animals homes up here.”
Hayward said those animals, as well as previously transported pets, had to be moved out of shelters to make room for incoming animals—in this case, pets whose families couldn’t keep them or couldn’t find them after Hurricane Harvey decimated coastal Texas. The shelters send “very, very adoptable pets” that are often quickly adopted, she said, and shelter staff here check the animals’ behavior to determine what kind of home would be the best fit for each.