Cloudy
63°
Cloudy
Hi 81° | Lo 60°

A Rescue From the Heart: Texas Pups Land Safe in Upper Valley

  • Megan Leavy, of Norwich, carries Harck, a great Pyrenees puppy, off the tarmac at Lebanon Municipal Airport on Saturday. Because Harck has a hole in her heart, she and her sisters had to travel by air from a kill shelter in Texas to an Upper Valley rescue group. Harck will need a costly surgery to live. One of her sisters has already been adopted. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Megan Leavy, of Norwich, carries Harck, a great Pyrenees puppy, off the tarmac at Lebanon Municipal Airport on Saturday. Because Harck has a hole in her heart, she and her sisters had to travel by air from a kill shelter in Texas to an Upper Valley rescue group. Harck will need a costly surgery to live. One of her sisters has already been adopted. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pilot Charles Malo, a volunteer with Pilots N Paws, delivers Great Pyrenees puppies to Amy Knight of White River Animal Rescue following the last leg of their journey from Texas. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Pilot Charles Malo, a volunteer with Pilots N Paws, delivers Great Pyrenees puppies to Amy Knight of White River Animal Rescue following the last leg of their journey from Texas. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Megan Leavy, of Norwich, carries Harck, a great Pyrenees puppy, off the tarmac at Lebanon Municipal Airport on Saturday. Because Harck has a hole in her heart, she and her sisters had to travel by air from a kill shelter in Texas to an Upper Valley rescue group. Harck will need a costly surgery to live. One of her sisters has already been adopted. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Pilot Charles Malo, a volunteer with Pilots N Paws, delivers Great Pyrenees puppies to Amy Knight of White River Animal Rescue following the last leg of their journey from Texas. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — Three weeks of scrambling to transport a nine-week-old puppy with a heart condition from a rundown shelter in Texas to its new foster home in the Upper Valley culminated in an emotional touchdown at Lebanon Municipal Airport on Saturday.

“I was crying,” said Amy Knight, who founded White River Animal Rescue seven years ago. “It wasn’t her fault that she was born this way.”

Knight, who estimated that she has helped more than 2,000 dogs from across the country, said she couldn’t remember a more challenging rescue — either logistically or emotionally — than delivering Harck, a Great Pyrenees puppy with a congenital defect, and her three sisters to safety.

Because of Harck’s heart condition, the transport was time sensitive, so air travel was the best option, said Knight.

Puppies normally require two sets of shots to fly on commercial flights, but even then, Knight said she wouldn’t have felt comfortable potentially exposing Harck to communicable diseases, such as kennel cough.

Knight turned to Pilots N Paws Pet Rescue Services, a volunteer network of pilots who donate their flight time — and the fuel — to escort rescued canines across the country.

After sending about 300 emails, Knight was able to chart a course more than 2,000 miles long from Dallas to Lebanon for Harck and her three sisters — Rooney, Molly, and Blue. The flight plan included stops in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Virginia and Connecticut — and five volunteer pilots.

“And it’s winter, so weather is a problem,” Knight said.

Knight had arranged the flights for a week prior only to have it fall apart when the pilot in Dallas chose not to take off because of a low fog ceiling. Although the delay only lasted days, Knight said she was “really worried,” because there was little time to waste for Harck .

“Wait until you feel her heart,” she said, her voice cracking. “You don’t have to be a veterinarian to know that something’s really wrong.”

Indeed, when holding Harck, the erratic heartbeat thumping in her chest was obvious.

Knight said that Harck is scheduled for an appointment at Veremedy pet hospital in White River Junction, where she will undergo some diagnostic tests before a treatment plan is hatched.

She added that White River Animal Rescue has received “very generous” donations to help with the cost of surgery, which will be performed by a cardiac veterinarian based in Burlington and could cost up to $3,000, a discounted rate given to rescue groups.

The puppies were first discovered by Knight on Facebook, when Linda Garrison, a friend and fellow animal rescuer, posted the pictures online.

Garrison, who lives in Dallas, said she had pulled seven other dogs from Texas shelters to be sent up to Knight in Vermont before discovering the four Pyrenees sisters.

The shelter where Harck and company came from, according to Garrison, was not open to the public, and adoptions were scheduled by appointment only. She added that there were no signs outside the “warehouse type building” indicating it was an animal shelter, and no windows, or outside runs for the animals to access.

Garrison described a property littered with “some old dog houses” and “outdoor kennels that are falling over.”

“Right now I’m trying to get as many dogs as I can out of this shelter,” she said. “I hope to do some investigating about whether they are licensed and how it operates, how they get their funding.”

She added, “In my mind, I can’t fathom how this is legal. The conditions at the shelter are very bad.”

Knight said that a Texas law passed in 2011 and implemented in September requires commercial dog and cat breeders to be licensed with the state, and has resulted in shelters being fined for having more than an allotted number of dogs on site.

She said the legislation has prompted some shelters to use euthanasia on pregnant dogs and small puppies, which she said happens in other states too .

Knowing just how quickly and arbitrarily a dog’s life can come to an end in these states, Knight said, motivates her to cross several state borders in order to get a canine to safety.

Knight said that Upper Valley shelters are no-kill shelters, and “oops puppies,” or accidental litters, are usually snatched up in a matter of weeks through classified ads.

“Down south, there are so many dogs that you can’t list a dog for $200 or even $25 in the paper,” she said. “Nobody wants them because there are too many dogs.”

So far, one of the four Pyrenees puppies has been formally adopted. Knight said she has received hundreds of applications for the other two healthy puppies, who are listed online, but she is only beginning an involved process of vetting the potential owners.

If and when Harck would be listed for adoption remains to be decided.

Yesterday, Knight was smiling even as she fought back tears as she reflected on Harck’s journey.

“This is what rescues are supposed to do,” she said.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.