It all started with Mick, a dog Linda Rohdin had never set eyes on.
Rohdin and her husband Eric had settled in Port Alberni for retirement, bringing their mastiff Finn along with them. When Finn died, Rohdin started looking for a rescue dog. She felt she had the time, funds and heart to help a dog that might not have a good chance of adoption.
She started searching on the Internet for Canadian dog rescue sites and hit it off with the owner of one place in Battleford, Sask. Since Eric was visiting the area at the time, she made the decision to take Mick—who was suffering from a shoulder injury and hip dysplasia. She asked Eric to bring the dog home before either of them had even met him.
That experience led Rohdin to start a non-profit organization called Air Angels, which organizes air transportation for rescue dogs.
“The rescues come in and I have to ensure the people dropping (the dog) off and picking it up are going to be there in time,” she says.
“The need for it is to encourage people right across Canada to take a rescue dog. And it works.”
In order to get the dogs from airport to airport, Rohdin relies on WestJet employees who fly on their days off, and use their staff discounts to arrange for the dogs’ transportation (the rescue societies pay these fees, never the WestJetters, she stressed).
Last year, Rohdin helped transport 171 dogs on 101 flights with nine WestJetters. In three weeks in January 2013, she helped transport 28 dogs from all over Canada and even the United States to new lives.
There have been a handful of high-profile transfers, too. Chewy, a Samoyed cross from Barrhead, Alta., headed to Hollywood to work as a stand-in in a Disney production. There have also been transfers from Bermuda and even Bangkok.
It’s no easy task: Rohdin started with a handful of volunteer WestJet staffers, and that number has exploded to 60. She receives nearly a dozen requests every day.
Rohdin credits the popularity of the program to Jane Russett, WestJet’s new ambassador with Air Angels.
Russett, a flight attendant, has also flown numerous rescue dogs to their destinations, at first with Hulls Haven Border Collie Rescue and now with Air Angels.
She was introduced to Rohdin a year and a half ago, and now assists Rohdin in flight bookings.
“She’s quite passionate,” Russett says of Rohdin.
Russett has always had rescue dogs in her family. “On my rescue we’ve got two dogs that we couldn’t let go,” she admitted. One is from northern Alberta and one is from Kentucky.
Her philosophy is simple: “I believe every dog needs an owner. It’s unconditional love.”