In August 2021, international troops pulled out of Afghanistan, and Taliban forces captured the city of Kabul. Kabul Small Animal Rescue founder Charlotte Maxwell-Jones did everything she could to gather as many animals as possible to evacuate from the country.
Maxwell-Jones took the dangerous route to the airport and tried to secure a flight out. Sadly, the dogs only made it into the hangar. They weren’t able to get a flight and had to spend days in their cages. Even worse fates awaited them in a country in chaos.
Hundreds Of Stranded Dogs And Cats Await Evacuation Or Death
The U.S. military eventually forced Maxwell-Jones to release all the animals at the airport (the U.S. recently issued a year-long ban on importing animals from Afghanistan and other countries.) In a harrowing Facebook post, she described returning to care for the dogs at the Kabul Airport:
“When we got in to the airport again after many days of seeking permission from the Taliban, I saw decomposing bodies of dogs I have known since their birth, puppies I loved from the first moment, beloved animals.”
Those that survived remained stuck at the airport for months. Soon, even more desperate owners in Afghanistan unable to evacuate with their animals brought pets to KSAR or left them at the airport too.
The situation was brutal and heartbreaking, but all the while, Maxwell-Jones and the staff of KSAR never gave up on the dogs. They spent weeks trapping dogs on the airfield and learning of the loss of others.
“But we rejoice with every dog recovered, and our vets are working round the clock to help them recover from malnourishment, dehydration, and injuries so that they can be evacuated when they are stable and when flights are regular,” reads a September, 2021 Facebook post.
Help Arrives Through Several Rescues
Following the “Kabul Airport mayhem,” Lori Kalef, the director of programs at SPCA International, worked nonstop to arrange air transport for the stranded dogs and cats.
Rescuers around the world knew they had to get these animals out of danger. SPCA International coordinated with rescue partners War Paws, Marley’s Mutts, RainCoast, Dog Rescue Society, and Thank Dog I Am Out Rescue Society to support Kabul Small Animal Rescue in their efforts.
The original plan was to bring the dogs into the United States. Unfortunately, the CDC’s suspension of the importation of dogs from “high-risk countries” proved to be too much of an obstacle.
“It was next to impossible. We couldn’t get landing permits, overflight permits, permission from the U.S. State department,” Kalef said.
So, the destination for these animals rescued from Kabul would be Vancouver, Canada.
A GoFundMe raised $290,000 towards the transport. Months of planning and coordinating, and negotiating went into securing a Russian Il-76 transport plane and a travel date: January 30, 2022.
300 Animals Take Flight From Afghanistan To Canada
Once the rescues were able to secure an aircraft, the Russia/Ukraine conflict nearly disrupted their flight. The Russian-owned charter had to be rerouted, with stops planned in both Turkey and Iceland.
But finally, after months of efforts by so many dedicated people, a flight carrying 300 animals took off from Afghanistan.
The journey was long, but the animals were well-cared for the whole way. Early in the morning of February 1, Kabul Small Animal Rescue posted:
“It’s been cold outside the whole journey, but our plane is 70 degrees F, and right now the UK crew is checking each animal, cleaning crates, feeding, watering, and making sure every little soul on board is feeling loved.”
Touching Down In Vancouver
SPCA International went “live” on Facebook on Tuesday February 2 to celebrate the arrival of these lucky dogs and cats. As the plane landed, everyone breathed a long-awaited sigh of relief.
These dogs and cats have been through more in a few months than many people experience in a lifetime. Finally, after months of pain and uncertainty, they are safe.
Watch the moment the plane opens on hundreds of new lives beginning below:
Many of these animals that made it to Vancouver belonged to staff of the U.S. embassy in Kabul and will be heading home at last. Around 80 will be returned to their original owners, but all the others need forever homes.
Learn about the Afghanistan Evacuation Rehoming Program and adoptable dogs from the flight.
This Was All Absolutely Worth It
During times of war and crisis, many have opted to hurl hate and dismissal at the work of the animal rescuers involved in this rescue flight. Maxwell-Jones is kind of known for having none of that, and with the work she puts in she’s earned that.
Kabul Small Animal Rescue posted about hate mail they’ve been receiving since organizing the rescue journey. Notably, some say the money it cost for the flight and the animal care experts would be better spent elsewhere.
“As for the accusations of wasting money bringing a team from the UK to Iceland for stopover care, it will end up costing less than $15 per animal for those many hours of feeding, cleaning, cuddles, and checkups. So in short, go eat a light bulb while we send our best wishes to everyone helping our animals and endless love to our rescues.”
Kalef also pointed out it’s never a bad thing to save lives:
“People will ask why rescue these pets when we have so many animals that need homes already here in Canada. Had they stayed, their fate would be certain death.”
KSAR was granted an OFAC license to continue their life-saving work, and says that they “will continue working here for as long as it is safe to do so.” Follow them and SPCA International for updates on the rescued dogs!