Baja Dogs: Mission Impossible

Six dogs. 10 pilots, 1500+ kilometers of driving. The mission: Get adopted dogs to their new homes in the midst of a pandemic. Here is their story.

Facing a global pandemic with services at a minimum and travel not advised, Baja Dogs La Paz took on the challenge of getting six of our adopted dogs’ home to their new families. It was anything but easy.

The journey was not unlike the “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” movie, where many modes of transportation were employed to complete the task. The logistics were demanding, complex and down-right crazy sometimes. Like the movie, there were some funny, some frustrating, and some emotional moments that the volunteers went through on this journey. This is their story.

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Watch the video, then read on for the rest of the story.

OroAdopted But Can’t Get Home

Baja Dogs La Paz operates a foster-based rescue organization in La Paz, BCS, Mexico. Many of the dogs that are rescued here are adopted to homes in the US and Canada. With so many people sheltering in place, the Covid-19 crisis brought with it a surge of new adoption applications, which is great news for any rescue organization. However, it also brought travel restrictions and flight cancellations. With more than fifteen dogs adopted and no way to get them to their new homes, we needed to get creative.

Our transportation team reached out to many organizations for help, but everyone was operating under the same challenges and restrictions. The situation was looking pretty bleak. These dogs had survived abuse, neglect, injuries, and starvation. They managed to heal, then thrive, and even get adopted! Did they really come all this way, only to be left with no way to get home?

Can This Really Work?

Finally, we hit upon an organization called Aerobridge, and the team from Pilots N Paws. After many messages back and forth, the group jumped in to organize a mission. It would not be easy. The private planes, based out of California, had limited range, so the journey would require several legs. After working out all the logistics of coordinating 10 pilots and 10 planes, we had a plan.

The only hurdle left: the 900+ mile road trip to the border up Mex 1 from La Paz to the US/Mexico border crossing at Tecate in Baja California. Two of our local volunteers offered to take on the challenge with gusto!

Day 1: Our Rescatistas Say Goodbye

At 6:00 a.m., the fosters began arriving at the meeting point on MX-1 in El Centenario, just outside La Paz, with their beloved rescue dogs. There were tears and smiles behind the masks all around as these families said goodbye to the dogs they had rescued, nurtured back to health and loved. In the predawn morning, they said goodbye, and the dogs were loaded into a rented van. Blackie, Sol and Chloe were in the large crates, and Olive, Oro and little Tita were in the medium crates.

At 6:00 a.m. we met to load the dogs into the van for the 2-day drive.

With a last round of tears and pictures, our volunteers were off. Lunches, dog food, water for the volunteers and the dogs, everything that they would need to make the journey was packed into the van. There would be no hotels or other services, other than gas stations, along the two-day drive.

It’s never easy to say goodbye…but our rescuers know the dogs are going to wonderful homes.

After a 10-hour drive, the team reached its first stopping point in Guerrero Negro, where we were lucky enough to find a place to board the dogs overnight. The dogs were fed, watered, and walked. Naturally, they were all a little apprehensive about all this new stuff going on, but Baja dogs are nothing if not adaptable, and they took it all in stride. The dogs spent the night safely inside, in their crates, while the volunteers slept in the van. None of the comforts of home on this trip.

Day 2: North to the Border

Day two started early with potty breaks for the dogs. Then, it was back into the van for the second day of driving, another eleven hours north to the border. At the end of the day, about an hour south of the border, the pack and their leaders checked into a casita where they would spend night two, courtesy of a kind friend. The property was perfect, with over an acre of securely fenced yard where the dogs could stretch their legs after the long drive, let off some steam, and get some food. Then, it was back into their kennels for a good night’s sleep. The journey was not over yet…

It takes 2 long days to complete the 900+ mile drive from La Paz to the border. There are no hotels open, so the dogs were boarded overnight, while our drivers slept in the van.

Day 3: Pilots and Planes

Day three was planned as a relay, where the dogs were passed from one capable hand to another, all working hard on the last stretch to get them home. Our volunteers were up early, the dogs were loaded once again and driven to the Tecate border crossing, where they met our California volunteers. Dogs and crates were moved from the van into waiting vehicles. Much needed supplies were loaded into the van for the trip back to La Paz. The US team crossed back over the border into California.

Our US volunteers met the van in Tecate and loaded it with supplies for the return trip.

After an hour and a half drive, they arrived at the tiny International Airport in Calexico, CA. Here, five of the dogs would board three different private planes for the start of their final leg, the air journey. The sixth pup, Sol, was lucky to be adopted in Los Angeles, and got the VIP service riding first class in our volunteers’ car.

It would take 10 pilots and 10 planes to get the dogs to their final destinations. The private pilots volunteered their time, planes and fuel to get these dogs home.

The planes taking off was a sight to behold, five Baja rescue dogs getting VIP flights to their new homes, courtesy of some very dedicated volunteer pilots, who donated their time, their planes and the fuel needed to get them home.

Our volunteer Gordon helps load the dogs into the planes.

The Mission Has Landed!

After a fourteen-hour travel day, the moment had finally arrived. At Renton airfield in Washington, the five dogs’ new families gathered outside the security fence, watching, and waiting for the planes holding their precious cargo to arrive. Having never met, they instantly bonded over their shared excitement. Some held signs. Many cried. These adopters had been patiently waiting, some for months, to meet their new family members.

Meanwhile, the adopters gather at a tiny airfield in Washington state, waiting to meet their new family members.

One by one the planes arrived, swooping down out of the sky, and landing to taxi on the runway. The dogs were unloaded and released from their crates, and into the loving arms of their new families. Tired, a bit disoriented, but slowly tails began to wag.

The families were ecstatic! This ended the long wait to finally get their new family member home. It was indeed a memorable and emotional moment.

Chloe meets her new family.

It Takes an Amazing Team

The dogs’ journey was documented every step of the way using a WhatApp group. Volunteers kept in touch with the fosters and the adopters, giving updates and sending pictures. It was a little like watching the Amazing Race, with the prize being a new four-legged family member. Once the last plane landed, all of us behind the scenes could breathe a sigh of relief and sit in amazement that we actually pulled it off.

There are so many people who worked long days for weeks to arrange this trip. Thank you to Aerobridge who handled the logistics and put us in touch with Pilots N Paws. We want to send a huge thank you to the pilots and their organization for their generosity. All their time, the planes and the fuel was donated.

But mostly it was the care that they took with our dogs that really stood out. If you met them, you would know instantly that they love what they do, and they love these animals even more.

Many thanks to our adopters who had the patience to hang in there until we could come up with a way to get their dogs home. We could not do this without you.

Big thanks to the Adoption team who worked so hard to find the perfect home for these pups. To our transport team, who had the tenacity to never stop looking for ways to organize a transport in spite of the many challenges and travel restrictions, we thank you. And to all the volunteers who helped get these dogs home, it was an incredible odyssey.

It really does take a village to get even one dog to their for-ever home, where their life will be completely transformed.

Want to help more dogs go home? Donate here.

Baja Dogs La Paz is an all-volunteer organization, and your donation goes directly to helping rescue and transport dogs to their new homes.