MEDFORD — While it may have seemed like business as usual Tuesday at the Medford airport, a special flight delivering some 25 to 30 nervous passengers at the nearby Million Air terminal was a matter of life and death.
Greeted by volunteers and staff from the Southern Oregon Humane Society, more than two-dozen dogs — which had been slated for euthanasia only hours before — were welcomed with open arms and promises of food, shelter and even forever homes.
Former strays and owner-surrendered pets that exceeded 72-hour stays at overcrowded shelters in Central California, the dogs went up for adoption last week.
Though the dogs were "seated" two and three to a plastic crate, the accommodations could have been considered first-class — given the alternative.
The dogs were delivered courtesy of Wings of Rescue, a nonprofit organization that provides air transport for dogs facing euthanasia in southern and central California. Dogs are flown to no-kill shelters with available space up and down the West Coast and into Canada.
"If they had not been put on that plane, the outcome was not going to be good. Their time was basically up. They were going to die," said Humane Society Director Kenn Altine, cradling a timid black-and-brown poodle mix as the anxious canines were loaded onto the shelter's "saving train."
Altine said the partnership with Wings of Rescue was a trial run that could evolve into a long-term partnership if all goes well.
Altine's Table Rock Road facility has operated the saving train for some time, collecting animals from overcrowded shelters around the region. Wings of Rescue, Altine said, will broaden the facility's reach with air travel and enable the local facility to help high-kill shelters along the West Coast.
"In Jackson County, the number of owner-surrendered dogs is declining. But unfortunately, the numbers of dogs being put down nationally is increasing. We have had the saving train, and now we have a saving plane that is providing us with even more opportunities to help more animals and save more lives. It's also allowing us to help other communities who are not having the success that we are having."
Wings of Rescue volunteer pilot Chris Cookson, a San Fernando Valley resident who was greeted by TV cameras and a box of donuts Tuesday, said the dogs were easy passengers.
"When you think about what happens to the dogs that can't get out, it's really hard to just accept," he said.
Cookson said saving these canines was reason enough to provide his time and justify the expense of flying his aircraft.
"We only had one dog that was really worried about flying," he said.
"I had to say, 'Quiet,' a few times. Every time I said it, he would stop for a while, but then start right back up. It was probably just his first time flying."
Altine said the dogs would be checked out for health and temperament, then spayed or neutered, bathed and processed for adoption within a day or two.
One downfall with this week's delivery, Altine said, is that the shelter had hoped for all or some of the arriving dogs to be have already been spayed and neutered. Instead, every dog that came in will need to be fixed.
"It's kind of funny that we don't even know for sure" how many dogs came in, Altine said, putting the estimate at 27. "However many it ends up being, it's that many lives that have been saved."
People interested in the animals can see them on the Humane Society website, www.sohumane.org
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.