For Murray, the tail-less Manx cat bound for Washington State — the paper heart affixed to his cozy travel carrier for his Valentine's Day flight on a Wings of Rescue twin-engine turboprop — showed he'd be missed by his caregivers at the DeSoto County Animal Services shelter.
Yet Animal Services Director Monica Mock and staff were overjoyed to see Murray off Tuesday on his journey of hope with eight other cats and at least 44 dogs from the shelter at 1251 Humane Way in the Nesbit community.
"He's a cute cat," Mock said of the perky, 2-year-old gray feline, "but his odds of being adopted weren't good because of his age. People tend to want kittens."
Awaiting Murray and his furry fellow fliers on the Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia charted by nonprofit Wings of Rescue, the no-kill shelters in Tacoma hold the promise of placement in permanent, loving homes out West. Murray had been at the DeSoto shelter for weeks; the average stay for Wings rescue pets before they are adopted from their destination shelters is just several days.
For the second time in as many months, DeSoto Animal Services and other shelters and rescues from across a tri-state region partnered with Glendale, Calif.-based Wings of Rescue to fly at-risk animals to less-crowded, "doggie deficit" areas with tighter spay-neuter traditions.
For the Jan. 18 "trial flight," there were about 110 animals filling a single Fairchild Metroliner for the West. For this second flight from the Sea Port Airlines/Signature Flight Support terminal tarmac off Winchester just north of Memphis International Airport, there were at least 296 dogs and 104 cats slated for flights to the East and West aboard four planes.
"We're so excited," said Vicki Blackwell, founder of nonprofit, Southaven-based BARC (Barksdale Animal Rescue Center), which works with DeSoto Animal Services. "The last flight was a huge success. This one was supposed to be two planes, and we have double that." With her on the breezy tarmac were BARC board members Betty Sumler, LeAnn Gray and daughter-in-law Shelby Jewel Gray, and Laurel Kirkendall. Other groups participating included Helena, Ark.-based Humane Society of the Delta, West Memphis Animal Services and the Memphis Animal Shelter.
"We just had one dog and one cat on the first flight, but this time we have 43 animals," said Memphis Animal Shelter Director Alexis Pugh. The DeSoto shelter's January figure was about 48 dogs and cats.
"We're flying almost four times the January number," said Ric Browde, Wings of Rescue Logistics Coordinator. "We're flying today to Buffalo, New York; Seattle, Washington; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and San Diego, California."
"Unfortunately, your area of the South has a huge need for homes for dogs and cats, because it's not strong on spay and neuter," said Browde. "But we're here to help, and we're excited to be part of this."
The DeSoto Animal Shelter holds frequent adoption events and incentives to try and find its residents a home, but often has more animals than room, due to ongoing intake tied to neglectful or abusive people. And right now, amid winter, "it's the slow season for adoptions," said Mock. If the shelter gets too full, it's forced to euthanize.
The Wings of Rescue connection tosses a lifeline to help relieve the crowding, said Mock. The DeSoto Board of Supervisors supports the partnership by waiving pet-adoption fees and approving any supplemental shots needed.
"Wings is already talking about a March flight, and having more during our 'puppy and kitten season,' generally from April to October, when we can get full," said Mock. Right now, she said of Wings, "they're pretty much emptying us out." She's hoping for a balance where Wings can avert shelter overload while a sufficient selection of dogs and cats remains for responsible DeSoto residents to adopt.
"It's organized chaos, but oh my gosh, it's great," said Mock, assisted by Animal Control Officer Wayne Hardin and Animal Control Tech Phillip McCoy, as groups and dozens of volunteers assembled hundreds of animals in their carriers at assigned sites next to the quartet of waiting planes.
No problems here, said Wings Co-founder Yehuda Netanel, a real estate developer and private pilot of Beverly Hills, Calif. Indeed, loading started around 8 a.m. and was done about 10:30 a.m., faster than it took for one plane on Jan. 18.
"This is what we do," said Netanel. "We're accustomed to large-scale rescues." The largest, he said, was a pre-Thanksgiving airlift last year that involved 1,000 animals and flights from Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and other points in Southern California.
Mock said adoption potential already was looking good for Murray the homeless Manx.
"When I put him on the spreadsheet, Wings just snapped him up," she said.
For more information on Wings of Rescue, founded in 2009 and now the largest pet air transporter in the country, online to wingsofrescue.org. To learn more about DeSoto Animals Services and its programs, call 662-469-8004 or visit desotocountyms.gov. To contact BARC, call 901-335-1441, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit blackwellacrc.org.
Henry Bailey is Contributing Writer and Copy Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He can be contacted at email@example.com and at 662-429-6397, Ext. 241.