As the new year rushes in, many might be happy to bid adieu to 2017, which brought with it such catastrophic hurricanes as Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, roiling through the Atlantic and causing major destruction across the United States, leaving hundreds of fatalities in their wake. It was a revealing time throughout the country, when Americans who had been bickering heatedly throughout the year—just read your Facebook—suddenly came together to help, offering food and lodging to stranded travelers, donating supplies to those left homeless and adrift, and providing funding where needed. And when it comes to the animals—many stranded, as their forever families were forced to flee for their lives from the more than 156-mile-per-hour winds—corporations across America showed their true humanitarian side. One of those that flew to the rescue in early September was Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.

While major airlines have been in the news of late for reportedly bad behavior (read: United Airlines and Delta’s abrupt passenger pull-offs), Southwest teamed with San Diego-based Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) to assist Operation Pets Alive! (OPA) with the transportation of area animals after Hurricane Harvey blew fiercely across the Lone Star State. Southwest, jointly with HWAC, relocated more than 60 animals from Houston animal shelters to San Diego in an effort to clear out the shelters and make more room available to those animals left behind after the devastating September storm.

Southwest takes corporate social responsibility seriously. The Southwest Citizenship philosophy, “One Heart. Endless Possibilities,” translates into several initiatives, including a charitable giving program in which it has donated more than $19 million in total contributions; a community outreach & volunteerism program; and several environmental initiatives; “Our planet sustains us all, so we feel it’s our responsibility to protect it,” notes the company Website. The airline also has a history of animal transports that goes back to 2012 when HWAC and its then-partner SeaWorld first reached out to it for help with the transport of 80 shelter animals during Hurricane Sandy, relocating them from New York to San Diego to make way for any displaced pets to be housed in the emptied New York shelters.

During Hurricane Harvey, Southwest was called upon by HWAC to convey two missions: one was a transport of five medical personnel from San Diego down to Houston, so they could go and work with OPA, which, according to Southwest Communication Lead Michelle Agnew, was responsible for a lot of the ground work with the transport—due diligence of identifying the animals, helping them with weights and balances, determining what size crates they would be in, and making sure the animals were in good health.

The second mission was conducted during the height of the Houston storm, when Southwest was not yet at full service levels. HWAC partnered once more with SeaWorld to transport the animals from Houston to Austin, and Southwest took over from there. “We put all the animals onto the plane, and our employees all stepped up,” she says. In addition, TSA joined in, providing special screening of the animals in the crates. “We loaded them up in Austin and transported them to San Diego,” says Agnew.

Southwest’s story is unique in that the airline does not ever actually take animals on board in the cargo hold during regular flights. “All of the animals were taken onto the aircraft and strapped with seatbelts into seats with their crates, so they were being monitored and cared for throughout the flight by onboard medical personnel in the actual cabin of the aircraft,” says Agnew.

Quite soon after Hurricane Harvey, Southwest was called to action again—this time for a transport of animals out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Buffalo, New York, during Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that tore through Puerto Rico causing massive damage and more than 50 deaths. Working with Miami-Dade Animal Services and their longstanding partnership Dog Tails Rescue and Sanctuary of Ontario, Canada, the airline was asked to transport about thirty animals with the same speed and in the same timeframe. 

Deciding on the aircraft that was used for the transports, Agnew says, was done in typical Southwest style: efficiently and cost-consciously. In September, the company was retiring 30 aircraft from the -300-series fleet; they had been utilized for their last regular flights, and were serviced and ready for these final special missions. According to Agnew, the network operations team hit upon the great idea to use one of these aircraft for pet evacuations. “We didn’t have to worry about any customer impact or any special cleanup of the aircraft,” she laughs.

The crew was very excited to partake of the missions, Senior Manager of Communications Lisa Tiller says, and just like in any other trip, “We crew the aircraft and the crew bids on it, so they purposely were on that aircraft because they knew it would be an animal flight and they were all animal lovers.”

They also worked closely with their network operations team and grounds teams to coordinate arrival and offloading, even relying on efforts to get seatbelt extenders for larger crates. “Everybody who saw and heard about it wanted to be involved. We had volunteers at the airports who weren’t even working that day, but showed up to help, because it was such a unique opportunity and they wanted to be a part of it,” says Tiller. And one employee helping with arrivals in San Diego went a step further, notes Tiller: She went to Helen Woodward to adopt one of the puppies and actually named him “Houston.”

On Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma reached the Virgin Islands, scattering families in all directions—sometimes giving people a matter of minutes to make hard choices, such as leaving the family pets behind. Humane agencies across the Caribbean bonded together to find a solution, and quickly. While others were making a rapid retreat, volunteers were working round the clock to find a way to save as many animals as possible. Nadia Adawi, executive director and general counsel at the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington, DC-based animal protection organization, was part of a rescue mission following Hurricane Irma, and then again a few weeks later after Maria hit, and saw several corporations volunteer their services. According to Adawi, the Islands had a shelter full of animals with no place to go. “There was real concern that the animals wouldn’t survive unless they were evacuated to the mainland U.S.”

“Irma leveled things, but then Maria was a whole different beast—again, a Category Five and coming along the same path, and the people in the islands were so worried that any animals who were still there in Maria would simply not survive that type of hurricane.”
Nadia Adawi, Executive Director and General Counsel, Animal Welfare Institute

Some of the major airlines were airlifting up to five dogs or cats per flight to the mainland, but it wasn’t enough. “Irma leveled things, but then Maria was a whole different beast—again, a Category Five and coming along the same path, and the people in the islands were so worried that any animals who were still there in Maria would simply not survive that type of hurricane,” says Adawi. “So, rather than getting five at that time on a commercial flight, we helped fund a chartered jet.” AWI worked with Island Dog Rescue in Virginia Beach to transfer 300 dogs out of the U.S. Virgin Islands with the help of Amerijet. In addition, Tito’s Handmade Vodka offered use of delivery vans to transport dogs and cats to the airlines, and Office Max, a small, local business supply company, donated copying services and paper to print waiver and release forms for volunteers, according to Adawi.

Every animal required vaccinations and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, notes Adawi, before it could cross state lines, a standard form that a licensed veterinarian completes, denoting vaccinations and any health issues. “It was an incredible effort,” says Adawi. “Island Dog Rescue flew vaccines and crates down to the islands, had a veterinarian come in, vaccinate and certify all the animals, crate them up, and then fly them back in under two weeks. It was an unbelievable undertaking.”

Also, she says, donations of food, toys, crates, and more poured in for the Humane Society of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in a matter of days, and it took a combination of corporations to help the goods reach their destination. According to a public Facebook post, eight pallets of supplies made their way from New Jersey to St. Thomas, with the help of Penske Trucking, which volunteered to transport the pallets to UPS Freight. A statement from the company’s corporate communications department in relation to its donation reads: “When disaster strikes, Penske tries very hard to give back to the impacted community through gratis or deeply discounted truck rentals when and where we can.”

Concurrently, United Rentals, an equipment rental company, donated pallet jacks that were used to transfer the pallets from vehicle to vehicle, and UPS then offered reduced rates for shipping the pallets to the Islands.

Adawi stresses the importance of corporate involvement in rescue efforts like this. “This hurricane season was like nothing we’ve ever seen, and governments and disaster relief organizations simply cannot keep up. It’s up to individuals—and corporations—to help fill the gap.”

In 2016, when hurricane Matthew touched down, Laura Fanelli, a volunteer with the South Carolina Beaufort County Animal Shelter, was trapped in the same nightmare. “Waiting for the storm, there was so much activity, watching the military show up and the intersection slow to one lane, there was so much noise before the storm, and then ... the silence.”

As people fled the area, leaving their pets behind, the shelter stepped in to unload area facilities, sending trailer loads, hundreds of dogs, to Washington, D.C. through what became “an underground puppy railroad,” says Fanelli. But some weren’t so lucky—people and pets in the remote islands of South Carolina were trapped. Pedigree came to the rescue, she says, donating pallet loads of food, leashes, and collars, “by car, by boat, and by busload, because those islands were cut off for days.”

Fanelli says what really helped to get the message out was social media, which became a lifeline. “What I saw was people putting up pleas for help. Good samaritan reports of lost animals shared over and over,” she says. “It really did have an impact in helping keep shelter staff aware; informing those who wanted to help; and giving people a way to report abuses. Shelter staff was literally pulling animals right off the street.”

Adawi of AWI also spoke about the huge impact social media had on the more recent rescues, including “mobilizing 200 volunteers in the middle of the night.” In addition, Adawi says, the rescuers in St. Thomas were able to put up a wish list on where people could purchase much-needed resources for the animals and the transports. “Because it was so hard to get delivery into St. Thomas, the goods were delivered to the rescue organization in Virginia Beach, which is run by a pilot, who then enlisted her pilot friends to put them on a cargo and fly them down to the Island.”

Where help is needed

Social media is having a significant impact on other parts of the world as well, especially in Asia where the animal population is exploding and the lack of education throughout communities begets cruelty and severely inhumane conditions toward animals.

According to John Dalley, cofounder of the Soi Dog Foundation (SDF), Facebook has become the main tool of communication for the agency, both in terms of fundraising and in terms of adoption. SDF is a Thailand-based animal welfare organization dedicated to rescuing strays and keeping the population in check on the island of Phuket. To date the agency has sterilized more than 182,000 strays; it also runs a shelter/hospital that houses or treats over 900 dogs and cats a month and runs an adoption program for those animals, which advertises on the organization’s Facebook site.

Dalley and his now-deceased wife Gill cofounded the foundation in 2003 when they saw the appalling conditions and the lack of education when it came to animal welfare in Thailand. In a given month, SDF sterilizes around 5,000 dogs to help keep the stray population down, but they get little help from Thai companies. “We recently received some major infrastructure support from Dimension Data and Cisco systems, but very little support from Thai companies,” says Dalley, adding, “Sadly, CSR has not really taken off in Asia as a concept.”

Some who give back to dogs ...

Amazon: AmazonSmile lets customers choose a rescue dog to receive product proceeds
Subaru: Donated over $9.2M to the ASPCA
Monkeez Makes a Difference: Toys raise money for the “Best Friends Animal Society”
Puppy Luv Glam: Uses clothing products to encourage adoption and raise rescue funds
Lush: Charity Pots line supports the “Beagle Freedom Project,” rescuing dogs from lab testing
Cliff Bar: Dog-friendly office policy encourages employees to donate spare time to dog rescues
Ben & Jerry’s: Free Cone Day is an adoption event
Tito’s Handmade Vodka: Works with a local vet healthcare initiative, Emancipet
Dog for Dog: Will match your dogfood purchase for a dog in need
Natural Balance: Feeds the dogs of guide dog firms
Thundershirts: Designs shirts for pet anxiety
Tao Group: Supports community welfare organizations, including Noah’s Animal House
Nestle Purina: Donates $13M+ each year to animal welfare agencies
Bissell: Runs the Bissell Pet Foundation, which helps find homes for pets in need
Petco: Runs the Petco Foundation, finding homes for more than 350,000 animals each year
Ikea: A member of “Home for Hope,” which encourages adoption

Interesting, considering the amount of U.S. companies with operations in China. According to a January 2016 article in the LA Times, while American companies said they felt less welcome in China than in the past, more than 50 percent of respondents ranked China as one of three top investment destinations. Even more interesting, according to Jie’s World, a resource center for information on U.S. and Chinese culture and economics, among the list of companies that either own factories or have contract factories producing their products in China (321 made the list, which is not comprehensive) are Petco Asia, LLC, based in Shanghai, and PetSmart, which has a global sourcing office in Hong Kong. In fact, Petco Foundation makes it clear on its Website that the company “supports animal rescue organizations nationwide,” read: not worldwide.

“This is a global war against animal cruelty and a sustainable movement,” says Jeffrey Beri, founder of animal welfare and rescue organization No Dogs Left Behind. “There should be no boundaries or borders for rescue. All organizations need to stick together and fight for legislation for animal welfare laws and a cruelty-free future.”

“On a global platform, China has become a superpower,” Beri adds, “And China also has no animal welfare laws,” which he says has slowly started to change with education. “The 19th Congressional meeting just took place and one of the major components discussed was implementing animal welfare laws.”

No Dogs Left Behind works daily to encourage regulation that halts the dog meat trade in China; Beri’s organization is responsible for the rescues many of us see come across our Facebook pages every day. The agency stands for: education, sustainability, adoption, regulation, and emergency response. Just this past June, it was part of a historic rescue mission that took place in the Guangzhou region of China in which a truck containing 1,300 dogs headed for the Yulin Festival was intercepted by activists who saw the deplorable conditions of the animals being transported. “We have hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and when they see a suspicious truck, it gets posted to WeChat and goes viral; and volunteers dispatch out and stop the truck and demand to see paperwork for the dogs. The majority of the time these dogs are stolen from someone’s home or taken from the street.”

The Yulin, or “Lychee,” Festival is a controversial event in which thousands of dogs are tortured and then eaten for reasons some say have their roots in ancient Chinese medicine. It is part of the illegal dog meat trade that still exists in many parts of Asia, due to a lack of education among those who believe eating dog can cool the body during the high heat of the summer season or provide body warmth during colder temperatures. It has garnered more attention in recent years due to the proliferation of social media sharing and an outcry from celebrities such as Ricky Gervais, Simon Cowell, Pamela Anderson, and Lisa Vanderpump, who have used their status to voice its opposition.

Beri’s team was brought in by the leaders of the “619 rescue” to help relocate these dogs and cats who were packed into 5-inch-wide crates stacked one on top of the other, with no food or water, in insufferable heat. And while the truck’s operator is required by law to carry a health certificate for each of the 1,300 animals on board, he had just one.

This was a vast and unprecedented undertaking. The animals were transported to a makeshift location, but the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees and there was no shelter to speak of, meaning that, once released, they were forced to lie in the mud while a better facility was conceived. Dogs were dying at 50 a day, and the swampy conditions exacerbated the animals’ diseases.

The organization began mass vaccinations. It set up makeshift vet units, taught local volunteers Western medicine protocols, erected quarantine units, brought in pallets to get the dogs off the ground, and started construction on a shelter, beginning with the roof. “The volunteers were getting discouraged with the dogs sitting in the rain, so the roof turned out to be a pivotal part of the process,” says Beri.

Then the unthinkable happened. “We were attacked by the villagers, who didn’t want the dogs there because of the infectious disease of rabies and distemper, and because they could be dangerous to kids,” says Beri. “Some of these dogs are scared. They’ve been beaten; they’ve been tortured; they’re hungry. So, when the villagers attacked, we had to move them to a remote location in Hunan where we ended up bringing in a security team and locking down the area.” Of the 1,300 dogs rescued that day, 300 could not be saved. The organization is now in the process of building a new shelter and readying these rescues for adoption.

That’s just one mission. No Dogs Left Behind has participated in hundreds of rescue missions and worked with multiple foundations to educate the population about the dangers of eating dog meat and about animal welfare in general. The process is vast, as one can imagine, and funding is desperately needed for the construction of new facilities, for medicine, for transportation, and for all the work that goes into making a rescue possible. But more than funding is needed. There are so many ways corporations can help, says Beri, who is calling on all industries to donate their resources to help save the animals. What’s needed?

Blankets to keep the pets warm during transport

Pallets to keep the animals off the ground

Crates used for transport

Pet food and dishes

Leashes and collars

Paper for use in providing certification for transport

Materials for building shelters, tools, tarps

“We believe it takes a village,” says Beri. “There is no one organization that can impact change.” When corporations step out of the rat race for a moment and reach into their corporate coffers, however, it can make a difference and it can save lives.

For more information on how to donate to the SOI Dog Foundation and No Dogs Left Behind, log on to their respective Websites: and