Virginia Animal Rescuer Charters Last Minute Plane to Save 300 Caribbean Pets from Hurricane Maria

All of the animals, who already survived Hurricane Irma, were moved from the islands before Hurricane Maria hit

Photo: Courtesy Island Dog Rescue

Sali Gear is the wind beneath the wings of 300 animals.

The Virginia Beach, Virginia, animal lover is the co-owner of Island Dog Rescue, a non-profit focused on saving neglected and abandoned animals in the U.S. Virgin Islands and finding them homes on the mainland.

According to The Virginian-Pilot, Gear feels a connection to island animals in particular because she grew up on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Courtesy Island Dog Rescue

Dedicated to the furry friends of her homeland, Gear created a special rescue plan for the canines caught in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Originally, she planned to fly groups of 20 animals gathered from St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix up to the continental U.S. every day for a week following Irma’s land fall.

Then Hurricane Maria appeared. As the second hurricane loomed closer to the Caribbean islands, Gear knew she needed to act fast. Instead of trying to save the pets piecemeal, Gear decided to charter a plane immediately and get all 300 of the animals she planned on rescuing, which included numerous dogs and several cats, out at once.


This past weekend Gear and a group of generous donors, like the Animal Welfare Institute, got together $112,000 to charter a plane from Miami (plus $5,000 for supplies) and they organized a group of volunteers to assist with the rescue.

“I did it because it had to be done,” Gear told The Virginian-Pilot. “People have moved heaven and earth to make this happen.”

Courtesy Island Dog Rescue

On Tuesday, the 300 animals safely arrived in Norfolk, Virginia — some in cages marked with the note “I survived Hurricane Irma. I am still nervous. Please be cautious with me” — where they were met by a large group of high school volunteers, led by Tinsley Sarrett, who showed up to walk the dogs upon their arrival. Even after weathering two serious storms, the animals were in surprisingly good spirits, eager to play and cuddle with volunteers.

Courtesy Island Dog Rescue

“They all seem happy,” said Chris Sjolund, manager of animal rescue Hope for Life, which often works with Island Dog Rescue. “Island dogs are like that.”

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Several rescue groups from across the country also met Gear and her group of heroes at the airport to transfer some of the “highly adoptable” pets to their shelters. The rest of the animals were taken to Gear’s farm in Virginia Beach, where even more rescue groups will be dropping by in the next few days to help these lucky animals find their news homes all around America.

Courtesy Island Dog Rescue

Gear, who says she is physically exhausted but spiritually full from the impressive rescue effort, knows that her work helping the animals affected by these hurricanes is far from over.

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