Virginian Sali Gear and her organization Island Dog Rescue just chartered a private plane to save 300 animals from the storm-ravaged U.S. Virgin Islands.

As with the other hurricanes that made landfall over the past month, with Hurricane Maria barreling towards the Caribbean, most of us could do nothing but watch and donate to large organizations like the Red Cross that we knew would be first on the ground. But one Virginia woman decided to take matters into her own hands. Sali Gear co-owns Island Dog Rescue, a Virginia Beach-based non-profit organization that focuses explicitly on saving dogs from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Gear grew up on the islands, so when it came time to create a non-profit, she knew exactly the community to service. After Hurricane Irma devastates the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gear and Island Dog Rescue planned to air evacuate 20 animals to the U.S. mainland every day for at least a whole week. But when Hurricane Maria was revealed to be following right behind, Island Dog Rescue had to change its plans. The new goal? Fly at least 300 animals out of the Caribbean and get them to Gear's farm before the storm hit the already-devastated island. While most humanitarian relief focuses on helping humans displaced by storms, there isn't always enough attention paid to vulnerable animals. Whether they are animals in shelters, left-behind pets, or stray dogs and cats with nowhere to hide from the storm, these animals are often the forgotten victims of natural disasters. Gear and Island Dog Rescue are committed to filling that void and doing everything they can to keep vulnerable pets in the Virgin Islands safe.
So how would they go about saving 300 animals in just a few short days? They chartered a plane. That's right, thanks to $117,000 of generous donations from Gear herself and others, they were able to charter a private plane from Miami to the U.S. Virgin Islands and save 300 animals in the storm's path to safety. Typically, the organization moves one or two dogs at a time. But with the islands about to be hit by a second hurricane within a month, there was no time to waste.
I did it because it had to be done," Sali Gear said. "People have moved heaven and earth to make this happen. This is a sprint, not a marathon. I'm exhausted emotionally, physically ... but spiritually, I'm not."
That could be because once the rescued animals reached the Virginia Beach area, Gear was met with massive public support that she hadn't anticipated. Within 24 hours of the animals reaching Virginia, local animal organizations joined the effort and more than 250 volunteers, some even from local schools, stepped up to help take care of the animals. Each animal arrived with a blaze orange not on their crate that read, "I survived Hurricane Irma. I am still nervous. Please be cautious with me." But what soon became apparent is that most of the rescued dogs were just happy to be rescued and loved. With all of the devastation in the Caribbean from Hurricane Irma and Maria, it is a much-needed silver lining to see so many people give of themselves to help these most-vulnerable storm victims. If you want to continue to follow this story and the other projects Island Dog Rescue is working on, including learning how you can help their efforts, you can follow the organization on their Facebook page here.

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Featured photo courtesy of Island Dog Rescue's Facebook page.