With a sigh of relief, Canadian Nikole Poirier waved goodbye to the second Noah’s Ark Project flight as it departed for Toronto from the Owen Roberts International Airport on Monday morning.
The flight, she said, was particularly special for her as, not only was it taking pets and their owners home, it also took more than 25 rescue animals to their forever homes in Canada.
“We had 55 animals, an unlimited number of those were allowed to be large dogs, which don’t travel in the hold,” Poirier told the Cayman Compass on Monday. “They come in the plane on a leash, in a basket muzzle, [anti-anxiety medicated], and they sit over pee pads and they take three seats.
“We had 30 plus of those kinds of dogs. But, in addition to all of that, we also had 23 animals on the plane today that were rescue animals [from the Humane Society] travelling without their family.”
Poirier, who organised and coordinated the flight, explained that Canada has a restriction on non-essential cargo, and animals are considered non-essential, which why they had to be carried inside the plane’s cabin.
While preparing for the departure, some of the passengers were moved to make adoptions, including of a One Dog at a Time pup.
Poirier said while the evacuation exercise brought with it a lot of anxiety and stress, as well as a lot of big dogs on leashes and wearing muzzles, she was pleased it was successful.
The first Noah’s Ark flight departed at the end of May. That repatriation flight to Canada transported 104 passengers, 17 dogs and 10 cats.
Poirier said Monday’s flight was not without its hiccups.
In fact, she said, it almost did not happen, after 16 passengers pulled out.
“There were some hitches,” she admitted. “We had people that didn’t show up to the airport that were supposed to be pet handlers. So, last minute, we had wonderful people step in and say, ‘I’ll take the pets.’ And it’s not a simple task. There’s a lot of responsibility.”
Pet handlers, she said, not only care for the pets on the plane, but when they arrive in Toronto, they have to handle the Customs clearance.
“Then, all those 23 rescue animals have foster families waiting for them in the Toronto airport. So, it’s getting them all the way through the Toronto airport and passing them off to their new families, which is so exciting,” she said.
A total of 116 Canadians departed Cayman on the Sunwing chartered flight.
The inbound flight brought back 30 passengers, which included Caymanians, permanent residents and work-permit holders and their families.
Poirier said the flight also brought two pets with it. The passengers will have to be quarantined for 14 days, while the pets will spend a two-week respite with Must Love dogs before being handed over to temporary homes until their families are cleared.
She said this flight had many heartwarming moments, like rescue dog Sheldon finding his forever home in Canada.
Sheldon was seized together with more than 30 other animals from a home in Cayman last year. Poirier said he was the last of the dogs to find a home.
Four of the dogs that were on the flight were also up for euthanisation, but she said, they were rescued and “will now go to forever homes, which is amazing”.
Going into the departure area, there were some moments of levity, she said, when one of the pet handlers started panicking when their assigned dog seemed to stop responding to them.
“They were like, ‘oh my gosh, what’s going on with my dog? … It’s just lying there …. When we sent in One Dog at a Time people to take a look to make sure the dog was healthy… they were, like, ’Oh, yeah, that’s Gus. He’s just deaf. Give him a little hello and a treat and he’ll start up,” she said.
She said Gus’s new family is preparing to welcome him home.
His fur mummy, little Kadence Moffatt, dressed up in her princess dress and made a welcome home sign.
Poirier also shared that one of the dogs that left on the flight was injured when he was attacked by a pack of wild dogs, leaving him with mobility issues.
However, a pet owner donated a puppy stroller to the injured dog’s owner, which allowed the dog to move around.
“When I saw them arrive at the airport today, I just cried,” Poirier said. “It was so great to know that not only can she move through the airports freely, but she can now take her pup on walks, take her pup to the park, take her pup out all these places that he really couldn’t have gone without the stroller, because it’s a bigger dog, and you just can’t carry it everywhere.”
Now that the latest Noah’s Ark flight is over, Poirier said she can take a moment to breathe.
“I just started bawling when the plane took off,” she said. “They all made it on the plane. We had a few dogs that we were worried about, [that] they would be crying and a little bit too loud, and we were worried they get kicked off the plane and we didn’t know what we would do. But it all came together.”
Poirier said she is now turning her attention to arranging a flight in August for Canadian parents who need to take their children back to school in Canada once they reopen.
That flight, she said, will also be open to Caymanian families and she is hoping to work with TravelTime Cayman and the government to make it happen.
At the time of publication, the flight had touched down in Toronto and the families were in the process of reuniting with their furry family members.