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August 20, 2009

Dogs Fly Free

Anita Coupe did more than adopt two shelter dogs; she helped eight more dogs land new lives

Part of an online series profiling staff who volunteer "Off Duty"

  • Katie scores an aisle seat. Anita Coupe/The HSUS

  • First class smiles from crew member Lilly. Anita Coupe/The HSUS

  • The ground crew, with Ben and Leo. Anita Coupe/The HSUS

  • Ben and Leo prove to be hearty travelers. Anita Coupe/The HSUS

  • Love at first sight. Anita Coupe/The HSUS

  • Ben and Leo land themselves a good new home. Anita Coupe/The HSUS

by Rachel Querry

When Anita Coupe’s dog Cody died recently, she and her husband, Brad, knew that their home in Maine wouldn’t lack for four-legged residents for very long.

Coupe is the first woman to lead The Humane Society of the United States’ board of directors, and she’s well aware of the urgent need to find homes for the millions of dogs and cats at the nation’s animal shelters.

Though the Coupes were heartbroken over the loss of their pet, there was no time to waste in adopting a most deserving canine companion. They had no idea that their efforts to give a dog or two a second chance would be increased, five-fold.

Miles couldn’t keep them apart

After a search of pet adoption websites, Coupe found Ben and Leo, Labrador retriever mixes who were being fostered by a rescue group. Leo was emotionally scarred from a lifetime of neglect.

He was closely bonded with Ben and seemed to look up to him like an older brother. The rescue group, PAWS of Marion, was determined to keep the two together and had been having a difficult time finding someone able to adopt both dogs.

The Coupe family seemed like a perfect fit. The only trouble was that Anita and Brad were in Maine, and the dogs were in Arkansas.

Enter Allison Carroll, a PAWS volunteer.

Over the years, volunteers like her have developed a pipeline that transports dogs from Arkansas, where there are an overwhelming number of dogs up for adoption, to Maine, where spay/neuter programs and other efforts have led to a significant reduction in the number of dogs up for adoption in the state’s shelters.

She suggested that they use this “pipeline” to get Ben and Leo to Maine.

But because they are still undergoing heartworm treatment, the dogs weren’t good candidates to travel by automobile. Coupe wondered how she’d get the dogs home.

Have friends, will travel

When fellow HSUS board member Dwight Lowell heard about Coupe's efforts, he was eager to help and donated three hours of flight time to transport Ben and Leo comfortably to Maine in a private jet. (Dwight and his wife, Kimberly, are serious dog lovers themselves. Kimberly volunteers at the local animal shelter, and she and Dwight have adopted five shelter/rescue dogs in the past six years. The couple originally purchased flying time so they could travel with their dogs.)

The more the merrier

Even better still—there was room on the plane to bring more dogs to Maine, where they’d have a better chance of being adopted.

PAWS’ Carroll was relieved to have found a home for Ben and Leo and delighted that their adoption would result in even more dogs being transported to a location where their futures would be brighter. 

“Finding a home for the two dogs to stay together was a challenge,” she said. "Now they will finally have the lives that all dogs deserve, with lots of love and proper medical care. We have no doubt that Ben and Leo will receive all of that and more from the Coupes.”

The journey home

Coupe flew to West Memphis, Ark., and collected her canine passengers. The dogs’ foster families brought their charges onto the tarmac and said goodbye with very mixed emotions. Many had grown attached to the dogs but knew that they had to make room in their homes for more.

Ben, Leo, and a female dog named Katie were strapped into seatbelts, while the remaining seven dogs were placed in crates for the trip. The skies were clear, and the flight to Portland was smooth. Coupe ignored the reading material she had brought along and instead spent the trip petting and talking to her two new dogs. Despite the strange noises and sensations of flight, the dogs settled down and slept for most of the three-hour trip.

Sky high

Their arrival at the airport in Portland was festive, with volunteers on hand to greet the arriving passengers. Eight of the dogs will be evaluated and placed for adoption by Lucky Pups, but Ben and Leo went home with the Coupes and have quickly become comfortable with their new routine, and new parents.

Ben and Leo are now going for morning runs on the beach and getting to know the other dogs in the neighborhood. “They are great dogs—adorable and affectionate,” said Coupe.

“While I’m so glad I could give Ben and Leo a new home, this trip has made me realize like never before that these statistics have a face," she continued. "Through no fault of their own, these dogs have no place to go. If we don’t deal with it, then who will?”

What you can do

Home foreclosures, high unemployment rates, and other financial difficulties have forced more and more families to surrender their pets to animal shelters.

Rachel Querry is senior director of communications at The Humane Society of the United States.

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