PUUNENE, Maui — On May 25, a pointer-mix hound was found in a Kihei bush with six newborns and taken to the Maui Humane Society.

Named “Perdita,” Spanish for “lost,” she and her puppies went into foster care for a month until they were weaned. The volunteer foster mom adopted three puppies and the others were returned with Perdita to the shelter.

On May 29, a motorist rescued a male black Labrador-mix from a Wailuku roadside and took him to the shelter, where he was called “Puddles.”

Puddles, renamed “Paxton,” at his new home in St. Helens, Oregon, with Katie Sanders and her other dog, Maggie, right. Courtesy of Katie Sanders

“He was a mess,” said Laura Forsyth, the shelter’s transport officer. “He had lots of hair loss and ringworm, which is very contagious, and was emaciated. He immediately went into quarantine and was by himself in a kennel for a month. That’s often hard on a dog, but he handled it really well.”

Once dogs are spayed, neutered and declared healthy they are allowed into “dog play” groups to become more socialized as they go up for local adoption.

But the shelter had other plans for Perdita and Puddles: the Wings of Aloha program, a collaboration with Alaska Airlines in which dogs and cats are sent to one of its 16 Pacific Northwest shelter partners that are clamoring for more rescue animals to fill empty cages and meet the high demand of adoptive families.

On July 18, Maui Humane Society volunteers drove Perdita, Puddles and two other dogs, each in their own kennel, to Kahului Airport, where they were put aboard an Alaska flight bound for Portland.

Humane Society for Southwest Washington volunteers met the the travelers upon arrival and drove them to their temporary home in Vancouver, Washington.

“We get all kinds of dogs – Jack Russells, hounds, Labradors, small and large, male and female, even the hardest ones to place on Maui are all wanted here,” said Shannon Boyd, transport officer for the Vancouver shelter. “The Northwest has a lot of room for dogs to play and roam, we have lots of parks, hiking trails and wilderness areas. It’s dog heaven.”

Her shelter “gets more requests than we have dogs, and a website and social media update means the next morning we have people here when we open wanting to see the dogs.” 

Puddles at the Maui Humane Society before his flight to the Northwest. Courtesy of Maui Humane Society

Photos and details of the Maui dogs were posted online the day they arrived. The next day all four were being adopted, Boyd said.

The Sanders family of St. Helens, Oregon, already had two rescue dogs, Maggie and Dante, who is 13. They wanted a young dog to join their pack on the farm, where Katie Sanders grew up and where she and her husband moved their family.

“I’d checked the area humane societies’ sites waiting lists for a few weeks and then saw Puddles,” said Sanders. “He came into our home on July 22. He and Maggie hit it off and Dante accepted him right way. There was no growling or aggression, the dogs started playing and running around outside. It was just amazing he adjusted to all of us fast.”

Her son Gavin, 6, renamed Puddles “Paxton Jax,” and daughter Emma, 2, shortened it to “Pax” because it was easier for her to say.

“They are all such sweet dogs, gentle and playful with the kids,” Sanders said. “There is no reason for dogs to be locked up or worse, they all need a home. We feel lucky to have Paxton be part of our family.”      

Julie Syring echoed those words from her home in Ridgefield, Washington, where Perdita went the same day Puddles/Pax found a new home.

“It’s easy to go out and buy a dog, but Jason and I like the idea of giving these needy dogs a home,” Syring said of the renamed “Perdi” and their other rescue dog, Luna, a female adopted from Texas. “Perdi has a fantastic temperament and is adjusting to the dynamic of dealing with little humans who can move fast.”

Syring’s daughter Melody is 4, son Myles is 2.

Perdita — renamed “Perdi” — at home in Ridgefield, Washinton, with new owners Jason and Julie Syring. Courtesy of Julie Syring

Syring said she and husband, Jason, fenced the backyard, installed a dog door, and adjusted their lives “to make it work for both humans, dogs and cats.” 

“We are helping other living creatures by saving a dog’s life,” Syring said. “These dogs are doing great things for our family. Bringing them into it gives us a chance to do something good for them.”

Maui Humane Society CEO Jerleen Bryant said the Wings of Aloha program with Alaska Airlines began in 2012. Of 6,789 animals that came through the shelter’s doors in the fiscal year just ended, about 10 percent — half of them cats — were flown to the mainland for adoption. 

Bryant said the airlift program helped the shelter save 92 percent of its dogs last year.

“If a passenger agrees to have one of our animals attached to their ticket, Alaska Airlines waives the $100 fee, whether the animal travels in the cabin or in cargo,” she said. “We meet them at Kahului Airport and a transport partner volunteer in Seattle or Portland takes the animal.

“There is no cost or inconvenience to the passenger and they get to play a direct role in saving a life.”

Alaska Airlines’ Hawaii sales and community marketing manager, Daniel Chun, said if there is no volunteer traveler for a Maui shelter transfer to the West Coast, the animal is shipped via cargo for a discounted $150 fee. The regular cost to ship an animal in cargo could be as high as $400, depending on the weight and size of the animal and kennel.

“The Maui Humane Society’s Wings of Aloha program is the only passenger volunteer program we have in place,” Chun said, “but we work with any authorized animal rescue facility across our network of 118 cities. “We also return the empty kennels to Maui from the West Coast, free of charge.”

“We certainly couldn’t save the number of  lives we do without their support,” Bryant said of the airline.

Passengers traveling between Maui and the West Coast can contact the Maui Humane Society to learn how to add an animal to their Alaska Airlines ticket for free transport to a shelter with an adoption waiting list.

About the Author