It's been over a month since Hurricane Harvey swept across Houston leaving thousands of people and pets without homes. Lives will forever be affected by this catastrophic natural disaster. Some families have lost everything -- all of their personal belongings, including everything they have worked their entire lives for. And worse, some have lost their loved ones, specifically animal companions. Rescues all over our country have come together to help move shelter animals out of state, in hopes of rehoming them, as well as to make room for lost and displaced pets until they can reunite with their families. poundWISHES has chosen 20 of these rescues to support through our Hurricane Harvey Animal Fund. This week, we're highlighting one of our amazing grant recipients: Cloud Nine Rescue Flights.
Cloud Nine has dedicated themselves to animal rescue by transporting animals via flight from state to state. The organization jumps into action whenever called upon by on the ground rescues that need help in situations where mass transport is required, which has certainly been the case during Hurricane Harvey and Irma. poundWISHES is beyond thankful for Cloud Nine's dedication to rescuing animals in need.
We sat down with Ted DuPuis, founder of Cloud Nine Rescue Flights, to learn more about his organization and the inspiring work that it does.
How did Cloud Nine Rescue Flights get started?
When I adopted my very first dog, it was a huge Rottweiler "pound puppy" on death row. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I really loved that dog. When I thought about all of the other dogs on death row, I knew that I couldn't save all of them -- but I could give my time to them, so I became a volunteer at a local animal shelter. That was a very rewarding experience. But I knew I could give more of myself.
Knowing that I was a pilot and that I wanted to somehow give back, people started to suggest the idea of animal transports to me. Once I looked into rescue flights, I was hooked. I knew that was my calling; I realized how overpopulated some states are versus other states when it came to animals not being able to find homes. There was a huge need for "long distance-high capacity-reliable transports," and I knew that I could help. That's when I founded Cloud Nine Rescue Flights; it was 2009, and I had nothing holding me back.
What influenced Cloud Nine Rescue Flights to help Hurricane Harvey Animals?
Cloud Nine has always been dedicated to help when it comes to natural disasters; there was no question or doubt in my mind. Not only do we transport pets regularly 1-2 times per month from state to state, we have also flown pets to safety after the Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011. We've rescued cats from Cozumel, Mexico to help with their over population and need for vaccinations as well. To me, it was obvious that we would help Houston. We would also like to help in the Caribbean, and have been asked to do so, however there is a protocol needed to fly in and out of their airports, and the destruction is so horrific over there right now, they can not even accept help yet -- it's heart breaking.
How has the hurricane in Houston affected your rescue efforts?
Cloud Nine already flies out of Houston quite a lot. We have some amazing partners there who we help transport for regularly. On average, we are flying in and out of Houston 1-2 times each month. The hurricane has affected so many things. Although there are flights taking place daily, there has been a huge reduction in animal transports due to the weather conditions and the health of the animals. With the need of transport in such high demand, we have had a bit of bad luck with our departing and receiving shelters. This has pushed back our efforts, but all flights that were previously scheduled have been postponed to later dates.
And what is causing this delay?
The fact that so many volunteers have lost their homes means that they do not have the same resources as they did before to get the dogs proper health checks that are needed for them to fly. Normally, if a flight is already scheduled and one of the pets does not pass the health check, it stays behind and another animal gets transported instead. What's happening now is that so many animals are sick, they are not able to fly and the entire flight is postponed; the animals can then be treated and fly when it is safe for them. We know that natural disasters like this take time, so we need to be patient while also being ready to jump into action as soon as we are called upon. Our last flight was postponed due to the fact that the majority of the dogs needing to be transported are heartworm positive. They are not allowed to fly until they have been treated and pass their health checks. We are thankful that their flights have been postponed and that these animals will be cared for so that they will be able to fly and find forever homes. There will be a lot of transports needed over the next 6-12 months due to all of the recovery efforts.
How many animals can you typically transport at one time?
Well, it really depends on the size of the pets and the kennels they are secured in. We typically fly 40-50 pets per transport. Obviously, the larger the pets, the less can be loaded into the plane. I am proud to say that Cloud Nine Rescue Flights has flown over 2,000 pets since 2009, and I have no intention of stopping.
That's awesome! And do these animals normally have families waiting for them?
It really depends on the receiving rescue or shelter because each flight is different. It varies case by case; I'd say that there is a lot of variety. Some rescues will have forever families at the airport ready to help unload their pets -- that seems to be less common right now, due to so many shelters being cleared out, but it does happen. More likely than not, the rescues will receive the pets and have them checked for health reasons, and then the pets go into foster care or to a shelter where they can be evaluated and placed in a proper forever home. I am happy to say that most pets do end up getting adopted and finding their forever homes. Rescues are really good about requesting pets that are easily adoptable in their area, and accepting animals that are healthy, with good nice demeanors.
Now, let's shift gears a little bit. Flights are pretty expensive. Where does your funding typically come from?
It's really a mix of individual donors. We have donors who give what they can in smaller amounts, but often, and we have a few high dollar donors who help with our larger needs. We tend to send out emails or reach out on facebook when we need help. When our propellers needed to be replaced, I reached out to one donor who is very active in the rescue world, and she kindly helped us with funding. It was very kind of her to help us the way she did. We have some other donors who help when they can, or when emergency situations arise. Cloud Nine is an organization that transports nationwide, so we don't have support growing in one certain location. This has been a huge challenge for us, and we are working on that now that we are based in Kansas. We are hoping to create more of a "home base"-- to get more involved locally, while reaching out nationally for support. Other than that, we were really struggling to find funding; we have made a huge turnaround since teaming up with poundWISHES. Honestly, most of our funding comes from your website and all of the generous donors who have shown us tremendous support. I honestly don't know what we would have done without your help--and to be given a grant as well as being featured in articles, we couldn't be happier. Most of our funds come from you!
Well, we're glad to be of such help to you! Now, in terms of funding though -- a question that came from our community concerns what kind of funding is needed for a flight specifically. As in, why is it so expensive?
We have needs that are often overlooked, unfortunately. Since we are a non-profit organization, people tend to assume that we magically get funded, or that we fly for free, but that's really not the case at all. We have unexpected maintenance costs, like we did on the engine, or when we needed new propellers. We have to pay for fuel and for the hanger in departing and landing areas each time we fly. It's always difficult when pilots are expected to cover the cost of fuel for transports...knowing that the cost of the hangar and fuel is normally $6,000-8,000 per flight, we cannot deplete our emergency savings for each flight. We need help with funding just like any other rescue. Owning an aircraft is very complex, and very expensive.
Now our last question -- can you talk about your experience with poundWISHES? How has poundWISHES helped you with your funding needs and how can we improve (we're always looking for ways to grow!)?
I saw an immediate increase in our donations when I started using poundWISHES. There were smaller donations made more frequently, and larger donations made by people who had never even heard of us before. The credibility of poundWISHES being a crowdfunding platform helped us a lot. I think that donors were more likely to support us knowing that they could see our needs and watch our growth instead of just reading about our needs on Facebook or through email. Being able to update our campaign and goals was huge for us. I have never been one to reach out, so when we met Vanessa, the Midwest Rep at poundWISHES, and she encouraged us to continue reaching out -- it made a huge difference for our rescue. I needed that constant push that you can't find anywhere else. poundWISHES has featured us in articles and we gained so much support. Now that we have received a grant from you, for doing what we love to do -- it has shown us that poundWISHES really cares.
This may sound silly, but my favorite quote is from the Lorax movie: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not." - Dr. Seuss.
In the rescue world, everyone has to care about what they do, or nothing will get done. Everyone involved in the process of rescue is very important --from people getting their hands dirty, volunteering their time in shelters to donors donating money to the vet care that it takes to keep the animals healthy. We can't do it alone, and poundWISHES has shown me that they care about every angle, every person, every step along the way, and I on behalf of Cloud Nine Rescue Flights, am eternally grateful.
We want to thank you, Ted, for your service to animals!
To support Ted and Cloud Nine Rescue Flights, please visit their campaign HERE.