Big Cat Public Safety Act Passed by House of Representatives

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, we are thrilled that the Big Cat Public Safety Act was approved by the House of Representatives on December 3 and we look forward to tracking its progress through the Senate.

Personally, I believe this is one of the most important pieces of animal welfare legislation. It will prohibit the possession of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species by individuals who are not licensed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Many people became aware of the abuse big cats experience because of the popular Netflix series Tiger King. Thankfully, our society and our leaders are standing up to put an end to the trade and exploitation of big cats in our country.

Please take a moment to contact your senators and let them know how you feel about the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can also track the progress of the legislation to find out when it will be considered by the Senate. Together, we can stand up for big cats everywhere.

Emergency Preparedness Keeps Animals Safe Too

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Widespread forest fires in the U.S. have caused so much destruction over the past year. In the wake of natural disasters, we always hear heartbreaking stories of evacuees struggling to find shelter with their pets, along with devastating injuries sustained by farm and wild animals.

Here at SPCA International, we stand ready to help our partner organizations across the globe when natural disasters strike. We are proud to have supported organizations in the wake of fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

We are particularly excited to be partnering with organizations in the U.S. and Australia, creating emergency preparedness plans that take animals into account.

Recent support includes a grant to Luvable Dog Rescue in Oregon. The area they serve was hard-hit by wildfires this year, and many people who lost their homes are now living in temporary shelters with their pets. Luvable Dog Rescue is providing much needed donations to displaced families caring for animals and they are working on a community-wide plan to ensure they are ready to respond to natural disasters in the future.

Communities and rescue groups everywhere can work to put their own plans in place to make sure animals are cared for when disaster strikes. At SPCA International, we’ll do everything in our power to make sure our furry friends are protected.

Pets as Gifts

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

From puppies at Christmas to bunnies at Easter, and everything in between, giving pets as gifts can be a dangerous idea. Gifting pets to others can often backfire for the giver, the receiver, and most of all – the animal.

Unwanted pets run the risk of being surrendered or neglected. Though most people agree that puppies, kittens, bunnies, and even goldfish are cute, if someone doesn’t already have a pet (or has decided on a certain number of pets), there is probably a good reason.

A few things to consider:

  • Try not to make quick pet-adoption decisions. The most successful adoptions are those that are well thought out and agreed upon by all members of a family.
  • Volunteer with animals. If you want to mark a special occasion with a feel-good animal interaction, contact your local shelter to find out if they could use dog-walkers or other volunteers to enhance the lives of their animals.
  • Offer to pet-sit. If a loved one wants a new pet, consider pet-sitting for a friend so everyone can get the feel for the level of responsibility required.
  • Adopt don’t shop. If your family has agreed to get a new pet to mark a special occasion, consider adopting from a local shelter as opposed to buying a kitten or puppy.

Of course, there is little that makes me happier than seeing well-planned and successful pet adoptions that create forever families. Many of our partners in North America and around the world have animals of every size and temperament for adoption and they would be thrilled to help you find the perfect furry family member.

The Art of Building Global Partnerships

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

The work we do here at SPCA International acknowledges that animals do not know the borders humans have drawn on maps. They don’t understand politics, nor do they discriminate based on region or country. At the end of the day, animals simply want what we want: a safe space, love and food security.

Having worked in the global community for ten years, I know each area of the world we serve will have two things: a like-minded community of animal welfare advocates, and a set of challenges unique to that community or region. The first will be the solution to figuring out the second. Often, we set out to solve an existing problem, such as access to affordable veterinary care, humane population control (spay and neuter) or adoption advocacy. The best way for our team to learn how to approach these issues is by observing and collaborating with the local community.

Most countries have similar problems when it comes to animal welfare issues. Overpopulation, unaffordable care and abundant cruelty are some of the most common problems I see in my work. At SPCA International, our number one priority is often to bring awareness and education about how animals affect community health, because unwanted animal populations and communicable diseases often lead to cruelty born out of fear.

To understand how to approach these systemic issues, we first reach out to the people doing the work on the ground. By building and establishing connections we learn how to best work within the local system. For example, in 2014 I had the opportunity to testify at the Congress of Deputies in Madrid on the issue of hare-coursing with Galgos (Spanish greyhounds). We learned from our partners that the animal cruelty these animals are victims of is illegal, but that the existing laws are not enforced. With a deeper understanding and appreciation of local culture and communication styles, we are able to create a positive and respectful dialogue with government officials and key decision makers.

Ultimately, we want new community partners to know we are there to help and support their existing efforts. By bringing a global perspective, we can recommend methods that have worked in other places and help adapt processes to best fit the outcomes we all want to see – building better, safer communities for humans and animals to live in harmony.

In Memory of Rita, a Fierce Advocate for Animals

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

My heart is heavy as I write this tribute to an amazing woman who brought the Humane Society of St. Thomas to SPCA International as a dedicated partner. Rita lived in St. Thomas and was actively involved with the local Humane Society when Hurricane Irma hit.

After her house was destroyed by the hurricane, Rita moved to the U.S. to stay with family, but she didn’t forget the animals of St. Thomas after she left. Rita was determined to find a way to help them, so she picked up the phone and got to work. I’m not sure how many different offices she called, but one of them was the line of a well-known investor and philanthropist with ties to the Virgin Islands.

Following Rita’s outreach to this philanthropist, I received a call from the foundation to see if SPCA International could help. They didn’t have a program in place for animals and were turning to us in hopes of forging a partnership. We had all watched the devastation that hurricane season brought to the U.S. Virgin Islands that year and were determined to help the animals and people of St. Thomas as much as we could.

Once we connected with Rita, I started to understand just what an incredible woman she was and how much she cared about those around her. It quickly became clear that she was a fierce advocate for animals and was passionate about helping them in any way she could.

Rita tapped into relationships she had forged during her time working in the airline industry to help SPCA International send shipments of desperately-needed veterinary supplies to her colleagues at the Humane Society of St. Thomas. Even while displaced from her own home, Rita forged a long-time partnership between two organizations that continues to make a difference in the lives of animals today.  

We were all deeply saddened to learn of Rita’s recent passing, but her legacy lives on in the memories of her family, friends and colleagues. She has made her mark on this world by giving numerous animals safer, healthier and happier lives.  

Along with a memorial gift to honor Rita’s life, I am certain the partnership between SPCA International and the St. Thomas Humane Society will continue going strong for years to come.  

Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide Rescue Flight Behind the Scenes – Next Rescues

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

August 2020 was one for the record books at SPCA International. After months of shutdowns, contingency plans and disappointment, we were finally able to deliver a plane full of dogs and cats from Iraq to the U.S. All of the animals on that flight had been rescued and adopted by servicemen and women in the Middle East, but they became stranded in Iraq because of COVID-19.

The government offices, airlines and airports that we had always relied on to accomplish our work all closed down with little to no notice. So, after 5 months of uncertainty, this rescue effort was absolutely unprecedented in terms of size and the amount of coordination it required. In order to receive approval for our aircraft to enter the US, we had to coordinate with the FAA, customs, CDC, and USDA.

There were many late nights, early mornings and a very big collective sigh of relief when the plane touched down at JFK. I am extremely proud of our team for pulling it off, and thanks to them, these dogs and cats are now safe and happy in their soldiers’ homes in the U.S.

We are thrilled to be hearing from the soldiers who have been happily reunited with their dogs and cats. They will be forever grateful for the support of the many people who helped rescue their pets.

Even as this flight landed successfully, in the back of my mind, I was worrying about new animals coming into our care. Soldiers are still stationed around the world, despite COVID-19, and many still rescue animals from terrible living situations. Just days after the special rescue flight, more dogs and cats were already in our team’s care in Iraq. I wondered if we would have to make them wait months until another special flight could be organized and filled. Since the start of the pandemic, I was adamant that we would not make the decision to close our program unless we had absolutely no other choice.

Thankfully, my worries were short-lived. I am excited to announce that we have found a solution with a commercial airline that will be able to transport our animals safely. We are very quickly learning the new process and adapting to get the animals in our care, home to their owners as soon as possible.

We recently completed the first flights, and I am so relieved that all went smoothly. This new development means dogs and cats will be rescued in a matter of weeks instead of many months, allowing the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program to resume at our normal pace of operations. Thank you to everyone who supports the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program. Thanks to you, animals rescued by soldiers serving overseas will continue to be reunited with the military men and women who love them.

Animals Today Radio Interview

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Lori Kirshner, host of Animals Today Radio about SPCA International’s programs. In our discussion, we covered Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide, a recent rescue flight that brought 47 animals belonging to U.S. servicemen and women from Iraq to NYC.

Animals Today covers all things related to animals worldwide, with an emphasis on their welfare and is a great source of information for animal lovers everywhere. Check out the podcast to hear me discuss our rescue flight, as well as additional animal news.

Animals Today September 19, 2020. Farm animal protection. Operation Baghdad Pups. Know your koalas.

SPCA International Stands Ready when Disaster Strikes

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I think we are all in agreement that 2020 has already been quite a year. In January, I expected a year that would be much like 2019, just with a stronger ability to reach more animals in need. As always, we budgeted and planned for disaster response, but I had no idea how much of our efforts would be focused on disasters this year.

Here at SPCA International, we are always ready to respond quickly when our partners experience disasters. In past years we have provided emergency funding to rescue and care for animals from areas affected by forest fires, hurricanes and erupting volcanoes, but nothing comes close to the response of 2020.

Early in the year, we mobilized to provide support to organizations in Australia that were on the front lines of actively rescuing kangaroos and other native animals from the bushfires. Funds provided food, water, burn care, rehabilitation and long-term support for animals injured, displaced and struggling to survive in smoldering forests.  

Just months later, COVID-19 quickly became a supply chain crisis for many of our partner organizations. They struggled to locate and purchase kibble for the animals in their care. In some cases, financial support helped them buy and store enough food to last the length of lockdowns and in one instance a rescue group purchased a kibble making machine. 

More recently, we provided support to our partners in Beirut as they responded to the massive explosion there. Funds have helped them locate and care for stray animals and lost pets, many of whom were injured in the blast and subsequent destruction.

Now, as we head into the final quarter of the year, I hope disasters are few and far between, but if disaster does strike, we will be ready. SPCA International exists to leverage the generosity of many to provide the support small animal welfare organizations need. We will continue to respond swiftly and strongly when our partners need help in the wake of disasters.

Thank you to everyone who supports our work. YOU make it possible to respond when disaster strikes and animals are in need. 

Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide Rescue Flight Behind the Scenes – New York to Home

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

After months of planning it was such a relief to see our plane full of rescued dogs and cats touch down at JFK last week. Each animal had been rescued by a service member months earlier, before life was so drastically altered by COVID-19.

The animals had made the long journey from Iraq, with 6 hours of load-in time, and 13 hours of flight time. The plane arrived in NYC at just about 2 am. Our team members, partners and volunteers were there to greet the dogs as they bounded down the steps of the plane, and took their first steps on US soil. The cats remained safely in their carriers and each animal was given a health check-up and monitored during their short stay before continuing onto their forever homes across the country.

The next morning our call time was 4 am and I was was fortunate to get a short night’s sleep before joining Pilot Julian from Pet Rescue Pilots for a trip along the Eastern United States to deliver seven dogs and three cats to their homes. I had expected a noisy plane with anxious animals, but the pilots assured me the animals would simply sleep once we were at cruising altitude. Amazingly, they all travelled peacefully and slept, exactly as the pilots said they would.

Without Pet Rescue Pilots’ help, it would have taken us weeks to coordinate these reunions through ground transport and commercial airlines. They made over a dozen stops over the next few days, delivering more cats and dogs to their families that anxiously awaited them. Typically, this amazing organization transports animals from high-euthanasia areas to shelters that have more space in different parts of the country. So, while they are absolute experts at transporting pets, they had never made a trip quite like this before.

Our journey down the East Coast was a truly incredible experience. After about an hour of load in, we taxied out at 7 a.m. and by 11 p.m. we were back in New York after delivering nine animals to six different locations where service men and women along with their families excitedly reunited with their pets. There were so many smiles and tears of joy. It was a truly incredible day.

Fitting 10 animals, 2 pilots and one passenger on a Cessna aircraft is a big like playing a high stakes game of Tetris. Our biggest dog, Feral Bueller, was in such a large crate that we couldn’t get it on the Pet Rescue Flight plane. The experienced pilots took this in stride and allowed Feral Bueller to sit by my side, right behind them. He behaved amazingly well in the air, disembarked at each stop with us, and charmed each and every member of the ground crews at every airport.

You might remember Feral Bueller. We told you about this sweet boy who was found with a gunshot injury to his leg in early 2020. By March, he was recovered and ready to travel to the U.S., but the air space in Iraq closed just days before he was scheduled to leave. His journey home to his adopter was drawn out and complicated, but he was finally reunited with his Dad at our very last stop of the day in Alabama.

I had been involved with Feral Bueller’s rescue since we first heard about him being shot, so getting him home filled my heart with joy and closed a chapter on the incredible work of many people who helped him get there.

You may have also noticed that I mentioned starting the day with ten animals, but only delivering nine. We returned back to New York with Shakira the cat, whose owner was unable to meet us before we had to fly on to our next stop. On our return trip, we let Shakira roam the plane because she needed time out of her crate, and just as the rest of the animals had travelled so well, Shakira peacefully gazed out the window. Shakira was reunited with her owner a few days later and she’s happily settled into her new life.

Once again, this successful day of happy reunions was made possible through our partnership with Pet Rescue Pilots and the many people who donated for these pets’ care while they were stuck overseas and their trips home.

Our team here at SPCA International will be keeping in touch with the soldiers and we are looking forward to sharing updates about these rescue pets with you soon.

Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide Rescue Flight Behind the Scenes – Iraq to New York

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

When life as we knew it began to grind to a halt in March, I was naive to how long this situation would last. I thought perhaps a few weeks or months of social distancing would slow COVID-19 enough for the world to resume a semblance of normalcy.

By May it became apparent that we would need to make changes to the way we accomplish our work here at SPCA International. With no commercial flights between Iraq and the U.S. and our kennels and foster homes in Iraq full of waiting dogs and cats, our team started to think outside the box. Our incredible Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide team came up with a solution – a special rescue flight just for the dogs and cats of U.S. service members.

We were a bit skeptical at first. I wondered if it could really work. We asked for quotes from numerous airlines, and in the end, only one company said they could do it. Our initial flight date was changed multiple times due to unforeseen red tape, but our team’s resolve never wavered. Days and nights were filled with international WhatsApp messages, phone calls to government agencies, charter companies, pilots and so on.

Our Iraq based team members graciously completed and submitted all the paperwork with the new flight date for each and every animal, even while navigating COVID-19 restrictions to care for and maintain the socialization of the animals in the program.

On the day of the flight, our team expected to drive a truck full of crated animals onto the tarmac and load them onto the airplane, but all was not as expected. The airport would not allow the truck onto the tarmac and only granted authorization for two people to load the animals.

The SPCA International team took this in stride. They planned to have most of the team members stay with the animals on the truck while the two authorized individuals moved animals to the airplane. However, they were presented with another challenge.

Due to airport restrictions, only two members of our team were allowed on the tarmac. Coupled with a steep set of stairs leading to a narrow passenger door this created a whole new set of challenges with the load in.

Because of the size of the cabin door, almost every dog had to be removed from their crate, and while the dog waited on a leash, the crate had to be disassembled outside the airplane then reassembled on the airplane before the dog could be reloaded. The two authorized team members did this over and over until every dog was loaded. The entire process took over six hours on a 110 degree tarmac.

Writing this, the thought of their dedication still brings tears to my eyes. They could have so very easily given up and decided the effort wasn’t worth it, but they persevered to get each and every animal on the airplane and on their way to the U.S.

The original landing time of the plane was 4 pm ET at JFK. After a lengthened load-in time, the arrival was pushed back to 2 am ET. Our entire dedicated New York team all made the choice to be there to greet the dogs and cats after their long journey. I am celebrating my 10th anniversary at SPCAI this year, and after 1,000 rescues, the sight of the plane taxiing up to the drop off point still gave me goosebumps and a familiar lump in my throat.

Thankfully, every animal made it to JFK safe and healthy. For more details about the final leg of their journeys, see my next blog entry – Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide Rescue Flight Behind the Scenes – New York to Home.