This is the AARF logo, which shows shows three animals on a yellow life raft: a small black and white kitten, a larger brown dog with a collar (a symbol of good animal care practice) and a small black and white dog. Grey clouds suggest an urgent need to find good homes for these animals. The raft (floating on blue waves representing the Caribbean sea surrounding Anguilla) shows that these animals have protectors in AARF and its many supporters. Finally, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, signifying hope for these deserving animals.

AARF Freedom Flight April 2018

Anguilla Airlift to USA After Hurricanes Irma and Maria


Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, on October 4th 2017, all of the AARF shelter guests at the time — 10 puppies and 8 kittens — were evacuated to Miami in conjunction with a huge evacuation airlift organized by the Animal Rescue League (ARL) based in Metamora, Michigan, the Animal Rescue Corporation (ARC) of Washington DC and Lebanon, Tennessee, as well as St Maarten’s SXM Paws rescue group and rescue shelters on Saba, Sint Eustatius (aka Statia). The actual flight happened two days later, on Oct 6th, 2017.

This came a month after Hurricane Irma destroyed much of Anguilla and the nearby islands on September 6th. And, of course, Irma was followed by Hurricane Maria — adding more punishment to the islands on September 19th.

The evacuation (named “Operation Saints to States”) put over 200 animals on an Amerijet cargo plane which flew from Sint Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) to Miami.

From Miami, they were put on ground transportation to the ARC facility in Lebanon, TN, where ARL and ARC spent spent weeks assuring every one of the animals were cared for and sent for adoption.

ARC published an article and photo album on their Facebook page detailing “Saints to States” and also put up a video on YouTube.

The Animal Rescue League is based in Metamora, Michigan. It has a web site.

The Animal Rescue Corporation is from Washington DC and has a shelter in Lebanon, Tennessee. ARC’s home Facebook page and web site are here and here.

SXM Paws has a web site and Facebook page.

While AARF did not get credit in the postings, we participated by organizing on Anguilla and getting our dogs and cats to St. Maarten. Read on for the story.

Our Part of the Story

On Anguilla, AARF, with little advance warning, had to scramble to inventory the animals, get carriers and then charter a plane from Anguilla to St. Maarten in time for the airlift scheduled to leave from St. Maarten on October 6th.

AARF was able to send everyone: the 10 puppies and 8 kittens that we had in the shelter. Most had been at the shelter for at least a month, and it was not pleasant for them. With no electricity (meaning no lights or moving air) and with the hurricane weather (we had two major hurricanes and almost a third!), it was dark, hot and dreary. And the animals had almost no interaction with people or other puppies (some of the kittens at least had a large area and each other).

A rescue friend of AARF’s in Boston had been trying to help find a way to get the shelter animals there, and we looked into chartering a plane to St. Thomas when there was another airlift to VA. But that charter was $2675. When the SXM airlift came together, that was much better since SXM is so much closer. But, SXM was still under a state of emergency and no visitors were allowed -- so figuring out how to get our animals to SXM was a big challenge. Remember, both Anguilla and St. Martin/Maarten had taken direct hits from Cat 5++ Irma followed by a miss by Jose and then more wind and rain from Cat 5 Maria on the 19th. Power was still out, homes, buildings and cars were in damaged shape, both St. M islands were under curfew, and more. It was a disaster area, literally.

We finally determined that we’d be able to send the animals on a charter flight via Anguilla Air Services.

First, all of the puppies needed individual carriers and crates (although some of the kittens did get put together). The team had gotten all the available carriers and crates cleaned and set out in advance, and Sally had made little ID tags with each animal’s photo and name and “AARF” on it, since there were going to be animals from several islands on the evacuation, slated for the 6th.

On October 4th, which fittingly(!) was World Animal Day, Sally, Suzie, Mark, and Steve went to the shelter at 7am and finished getting the carriers ready with newspapers, absorbent pads, and tags. Then they stuffed the puppies and kittens in them.  In the end there were 8 puppy soft carriers, 2 puppy crates, and 4 kitten soft carriers.

Nearing the point of having them all in carriers, Mark yelled that one puppy had escaped. He’d broken through his soft carrier. Fortunately we had one more carrier — the last one we had, and the little bolter was reinstalled.

The animals then all went into the pickup bed and cab as well as into Suzie and Steve’s car. Sally sat in the bed of the pickup with three pups, and off the bunch went to the Anguilla airport. At the Anguilla airport, the people at AAS were very nice. After a few photos, the AARF team was able to watch them be driven out to the AAS plane and put on, and then fly off. But they could not do anything more than watch, since travel to St. Martin/Maarten was not allowed.

Dekha Swanston from the St. Maarten Animal Clinic met our animals at the charter and then she and some others took the animals to their clinic, gave them all needed vaccinations, housed them for two nights, and then delivered them to the big airlift on the morning of Friday, October 6th. It could not have happened without Dekha’s help!

(Dekha would play another huge part in our second airlift in April of 2018, dubbed Freedom Flight. See the details and photos of that event here.)

Special Thank Yous

We are grateful to everyone that organized this feat and to the US-based rescue organizations, the American Rescue League and the Animal Rescue Corporation, who coordinated the transport and placement of all these puppies and kittens who bravely survived Irma’s wrath. It was such a great feeling to know they all have wonderful futures ahead of them.

And of course, thanks go to Dekha and the AARF volunteers who gathered the equipment, animals, did the preparation, loading and deliver to the Airport. Also to Anguilla Air Services, for the flight and the professional and cheerful help we got at the Anguilla airport.

Here are the photos. To see or download any image in a larger size, click on the photo. The name of the photo is given as a caption, and clicking on the caption title brings up the original, at least the one I have. (In the case of movies, it will start the movie).



We also have a short movie showing some wriggling puppy carriers!