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Going to Hawaii on Vacation? Save a Shelter Dog on Your Return Trip!

Hawaiian shelter dogs have a better chance of getting adopted in the U.S., so they're hopping flights home with willing travelers.

Louise Hung  |  Jun 26th 2015


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Summer has arrived! No doubt more than a few of you are planning a getaway. Some of you are probably planning to visit Hawaii. As a former resident of Oahu, I highly recommend it.

Hawaii is one of those few places that are fairly accessible to the vast vacationing public AND really looks like the postcards your Aunt Enid sent you last year. Blue water, island breezes, drinks with umbrellas, what could be better?

But maybe this summer your Hawaiian vacation could make a difference to a few fortunate canines. Maybe you could save some lives.

How, you ask?

Well, dog lovers, the Kauai Humane Society and the Maui Humane Society have programs in place that fly dogs from their crowded on-island shelters to mainland shelters that can facilitate prompt adoption. Kauai’s is the Shelter Pet Transfer Program, and Maui’s is the Wings of Aloha Transfer Program.

Transferred to southwest Washington State, this Maui dog was adopted within a week. (Photo courtesy Maui Humane Society)

Transferred to southwest Washington State, this Maui dog was adopted within a week. (Photo courtesy Maui Humane Society)

All you as a traveler would have to do is agree to have the dogs fly with you (crated, in the animal hold of the aircraft) to a mainland airport for pick up from a local shelter.

“I cannot tell you how many dogs I have sent [to the mainland] who have been here for three or four months, who have arrived and been adopted within the week,” says Brandy Varvel, outreach and client services manager of the Kauai Humane Society.

By participating in a shelter pet transfer program from Hawaii to the mainland, “You’re saving lives,” adds Laura Forsythe, volunteer and board secretary of the Maui Humane Society.

Three dogs get ready to fly from Kauai to Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, CA. (Photo courtesy Rancho Coastal Humane Society)

Three dogs get ready to fly from Kauai to Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, CA. (Photo courtesy Rancho Coastal Humane Society)

But why transfer dogs from Hawaii when there are thousands of dogs in mainland shelters that need homes too?

The three shelters I spoke to, the Kauai Humane Society, the Maui Humane Society, and mainland transfer partner Rancho Coastal Humane Society, all firmly agree on the fact that the dogs from Hawaii do not negatively impact adoption rates in partner shelters.

The mainland transfer partners control which dogs come in and how many. The Hawaii shelters only send dogs that the partner shelters believe they can efficiently adopt out. (This includes many of the less “common” breeds on the mainland such as, but not limited to, unusual hound mixes, Whippets and Whippet mixes, and Airedale mixes.)

Benton, a Whippet mix, was transferred to the Oregon Humane Society from Kauai, and quickly adopted. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society

Benton, a Whippet mix, was transferred to the Oregon Humane Society from Kauai and quickly adopted. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

Both Maui and Kauai Humane take in thousands of dogs each year for island communities that number approximately 60,000 and 145,000 people respectively. There are more dogs who need homes than there are people who are willing and able to adopt them.

Mainland shelters in major metropolitan areas such Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area of Northern California, and the San Diego area of Southern California not only have a greater population of people who can and will adopt dogs, but they also have shelters often in need of adoptable dogs.

“It’s all about supply and demand,” explains Brandy. “People come into a shelter, they want a certain look, and if you don’t have it, they go to the pet store. So [the partner shelters are] bringing in animals that look different.”

Brandy Varvel with five Shelter Pet Transfer Program dogs going to the Oregon Humane Society. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

Brandy Varvel with five Shelter Pet Transfer Program dogs going to the Oregon Humane Society. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

“We’re transferring on a weekly basis, but it’s not a large quantity when you’re talking about these large shelters in a metropolis area. We don’t have a negative impact on the local community.”

“The shelters are also helping their local community,” she says, explaining how shelters like the Oregon Humane Society drive to various locations in Oregon to pick up animals. “But when that’s done, they go beyond their local community to other states.”

“The double benefit,” says Nick Winfrey, VP of planning and development at Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, California, “is that we get to pull these animals out of another shelter and make room for more animals going into that shelter. Then we bring in an animal who is highly adoptable, that people are really striving for. People want to be unique, they want to have a really cool, unique dog — [and that they] saved a life. And that’s kind of what this program’s able to do.”

Cruz spent two months at the Kauai HS before before being transferred to a mainland shelter. He found a home in one week. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

Cruz spent two months at the Kauai HS before before being transferred to a mainland shelter. He found a home in one week. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

Adds Nick, “Our goal is to be out of business, when it comes to pet adoption. We want there to not be a need for it; we want there to be enough animals for enough homes and not an overabundance of animals.”

So, what is the process of bringing a dog or dogs to the mainland from Hawaii?

Cruz snoozes in his new Oregon home. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

Cruz snoozes in his new Oregon home. (Photo courtesy Kauai Humane Society)

“It’s such minimal efforts on the travelers,” says Laura.

Whether you’re flying from Maui’s Kahului Airport or Kauai’s Lihue Airport, there are any number of transfer partners on the mainland. Maui works with seven shelters in the Portland area and one in the Seattle area. Kauai works with the Oregon Humane Society, Seattle Humane Society, East Bay SPCA, San Diego Humane Society, and, as mentioned before, Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas.

I’ve broken the process down for you:

  1. Contact the transfer program of the Humane Society on the island that you will be flying out of. You will need to give them your travel dates, contact information, and travel confirmation. You must be flying nonstop from the island to your destination city on Alaska Airlines. For Kauai’s Shelter Pet Transfer Program start here. For Maui’s Wings of Aloha Transfer Program start here.
  2. Maui Humane or Kauai Humane will handle all the arrangements with the mainland shelters and with Alaska Airlines. Additionally, any cost of transferring the dog or dogs (up to five dogs can be shipped with one passenger) is handled entirely by the shelter. All you have to do is enjoy your time in Hawaii!
  3. On the day you depart Maui or Kauai, a representative from the shelter will meet you at the Alaska Airlines ticket counter approximately two hours before your flight. You sign some paperwork confirming that the dogs are flying with you, you wish your canine traveling buddies a good flight, and off they go. Before flying out of Maui or Kauai, you’ll be given the number for the shelter contact at your arriving city.
  4. Upon arrival at your destination, you call the contact from the receiving shelter. They will meet you at baggage claim, where they will pick up the dogs and whisk them off to a new life.

Congratulations! You’ve saved a Hawaii dog!

Pearl came from Kauai and found a Forever Home in the San Diego area. (Photo courtesy Rancho Coastal Humane Society)

Pearl came from Kauai and found a Forever Home in the San Diego area. (Photo courtesy Rancho Coastal Humane Society)

“We take on all the work … it’s just as easy as possible for [travelers],” states Brandy.

It’s worth noting that Alaska Airlines seems to take the transfer and handling of the dogs very seriously. Says Nick, the dogs are “VIP passengers.”

“Once you’re on the flight and checked in, one of the flight attendants will actually come up to you and let you know that all of your passengers are onboard safely.”

Five dogs and two happy passengers fly from Maui to the mainland. (Photo courtesy Maui Humane Society)

Five dogs and two happy passengers fly from Maui to the mainland. (Photo courtesy Maui Humane Society)

Since December of 2012, Kauai has transferred approximately 650 pets (they occasionally send kittens, too). Maui’s transfer numbers have steadily climbed since their program started about four years ago, transferring 215 dogs last fiscal year and predicting 250 dogs in the coming year.

Rancho Coastal Humane Society, though relatively new to the Shelter Pet Transfer Program, has already brought in 20 dogs and adopted 15 of them. (They began participating in February of 2015.)

Above all, as Laura states, “Our mission is to to save as many lives as possible.”

Brownie, a Maui dog, found a home in Washington State within one week of arrival. (Photo courtesy Maui Humane Society)

Brownie, a Maui dog, found a home in Washington State within one week of arrival. (Photo courtesy Maui Humane Society)

So, if your vacation plans include a trip to Maui or Kauai, consider bringing some friends back with you. Knowing that you’ve saved a life just might be the perfect end to a perfect vacation.

A hearty mahalo to Brandy of the Kauai Humane Society, Laura of the Maui Humane Society, and Nick of Rancho Coastal Humane Society. Your dedication and enthusiasm is inspiring.

If you would like to help support the Shelter Pet Transfer Program or the Wings of Aloha Transfer Program, but are not flying anytime soon, your donations are greatly appreciated. All the programs are largely if not entirely funded by donations, and your help can make an enormous difference.

Donate to programs at Rancho Coastal Humane SocietyMaui Humane Society, or Kauai Humane Society. You can also purchase items on Kauai Humane Society’s Amazon Wish List.

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.

Read more about shelter transport groups: 

About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Yokohama, Japan, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.