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.