It took a village to get J Crew, an orphaned NYC cat, to his new home in Oregon. But despite Covid-19 and extreme weather challenges, volunteer Flight Angels at Southwest Animal Transport Team (SWATT) provided the wings that carried him into the arms of his new adopter.
SWATT is a group of Southwest Airlines employees and retirees, known as Flight Angels. They donate their time and use their travel privileges to transport rescue animals within the continental U.S. SWATT collaborates with Delta Animal Rescue Transports (DART), as well as fosters, shelters, rescues that pull from high-kill shelters, and sanctuaries to transport rescued animals to their forever homes.
Nine-year-old J Crew’s human dad adopted him from the ASPCA six years ago. Sadly, he passed away in January. His sister Sheila*, who lives in Portland, Oregon wanted to adopt J Crew. So she arranged for her brother’s long-time neighbor to care for J Crew until she could make arrangements to transport him to Portland.
Sheila reached out to numerous rescue-related organizations seeking help with transport. A Best Friends Animal Society volunteer referred her to the Mayor’s Alliance. We contacted SWATT, who agreed to help, and, in collaboration with DART, set the wheels in motion to arrange a cross-country transport.
Preparing for the Journey
J Crew was alone in NYC except for the neighbor who cared for him each day. That made preparing him for travel more complicated than a typical SWATT / DART transport for a rescue group.
First, it wasn’t clear how well J Crew would tolerate a harness and confinement to an airline–approved carrier. Both were required for airline travel. So a test run had to be set up. The neighbor who had been caring for J Crew handled this step.
Next, J Crew had to be examined and vaccinated by a veterinarian to acquire a health certificate for interstate travel. Sheila’s daughter on the West Coast arranged for an employee at Animal General Hospital in Manhattan to facilitate the vet visit. Fortunately, J Crew was deemed medically and behaviorally able to make the trip.
Meanwhile, SWATT recruited the necessary volunteers to transport J Crew. Navigating uncertain weather conditions across the country, the SWATT team coordinated with DART to schedule the transport to take place on Monday, Feb. 22.
Initially, two different Flight Angels were lined up to share the four-leg, round trip flight from New York City to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Portland; Portland back to Minneapolis and then back to New York the same day. But Hannah, of Delta Airlines, one of the two Flight Angels, decided to handle the entire round trip. This allowed J Crew to have the comfort and continuity of a single travel companion.
The travelers’ day began early. Hannah picked up J Crew from his West Side apartment at 5:00 AM Eastern Time. They arrived at Laguardia Airport in plenty of time to board the 7:00 AM flight to Minneapolis.
The stop in Minneapolis allowed Hannah to give J Crew a bathroom break. Then our travelers continued on the second leg of their westbound journey. At 12:44 PM Pacific Time, Hannah and J Crew touched down at Portland International Airport. Hannah met Sheila and her daughter in the airport’s baggage area, and J Crew met his new family.
Hannah boarded the next eastbound Delta flight. After her second stop that day in Minneapolis, she arrived back at NYC’s Laguardia Airport just before midnight. At the end of her 19-hour journey, Hannah posted on Facebook Messenger, “I’m happy to be a part of it and had a good time today. Thank you guys [referring to her Flight Angels team] for putting it all together and standing by in the control room while I did my part. I know kitty is in good hands now and it’s all worth it.”
Sheila was beyond grateful for the generous, efficient efforts by everyone who contributed to J Crew’s safe transport. “Thank you for the phenomenal job networking J Crew to hitch flights from NYC to Portland,” she said. “It was no small task, with COVID, weather, a cat who had lost his person, and with so many other obstacles. But [you] pulled it off, with the help of some very dedicated volunteers. We are grateful for the fact that although it takes a village, there is a village.”
The Mayor’s Alliance is grateful to have been able to play the role of match-maker in connecting J Crew’s family with the incredible SWATT and DART teams.
To read more about SWATT’s life-saving work, visit their website.
Footnote: (*The adopter’s name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.)