When Jack the Siberian husky arrived in the Tri-Cities on Wednesday, he greeted his new owners with sloppy kisses and yelps of happiness.
But there was more to Jack's happiness than a new home with Ty McLane and his girlfriend, Lora Felts, of Richland.
McLane saved the 12-year-old dog's life, because Jack was about to be put down at the California animal shelter that was housing him.
"When you're an old dog like Jack, your chances of surviving in a shelter are slim," McLane said. "Most people don't want an older dog, and shelters just don't have the room to keep them for too long. But I have a soft spot for these aging dogs."
McLane heard about Jack's plight three weeks ago through his Facebook connections with the Sunny Oasis shelter in California.
"I saw a photo of Jack and my heart ached for him," McLane said. "I didn't want him to die. I lost one of my huskies on Aug. 5, so I had room for another one and made the arrangements."
That's when the nonprofit agency Wings of Rescue, based in California, stepped in to help. Jack was flown from California to the Tri-Cities a day before he was scheduled to be euthanized, McLane said.
Wings of Rescue, now in its third year, is run by pilots who donate their time and planes to escort animals up and down the West Coast to forever homes.
Last year, the agency flew a dozen homeless dogs from Los Angeles to Pasco because of overcrowding at shelters there.
Elaine Allison, executive director of the Benton Franklin Humane Society in Kennewick, said Wings of Rescue is a dream to work with.
"All I have to do is tell them I want so many fluffy, scruffy little dogs and that's what I get," Allison said. "We've used them several times and we've never had to pay a dime for the transport because there's always donations to cover the fuel costs."
During the past three years, Wings of Rescue has saved about 8,300 animals by transporting them to shelters that aren't as crowded, or to private individuals like McLane who adopt from afar. They fly homeless animals to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and British Columbia.
"People are always willing to donate money to help pay for any airplane fuel costs when rescues like this happen," McLane said.
Anyone who would like to donate to Wings of Rescue can go to http://www.wingsofrescue.com.
McLane has three other rescued huskies that came to him closer to home and didn't require an airlift. His brood also includes 9-year-old Kody, 8-year-old Sapphire and 2-year-old Molly, as well as his girlfriend's rescued 3-year-old pitbull Bela.
Jack caps the couple's dog limit, though McLane said he would love to rescue more if he could.
"Five is the most dogs you can have in Richland," he said. "I wish there wasn't a limit, but I understand why there is one."
McLane also encourages animal lovers to consider older dogs when thinking of adoption. He recommends checking with the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter at http://www.tricitiesanimalshelter.com for pets looking to be adopted.
Many shelters strive to be no-kill facilities. But when overcrowding occurs, the difficult decision must be made occasionally to euthanize sick, aging or aggressive animals unless homes can be found for them, said Angela Ziler, the shelter's director.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricity herald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal