Transfer program suspended

PUHI — Kauai Humane Society is reeling after an Alaska Airlines decision to temporarily end its pet transfer program.

“It’s a devastating blow, both to us and to Maui Humane Society,” said Penny Cistaro, executive director of KHS. “What animals aren’t going to get help now and where are we going to put our resources?”

The program allows humane society animals from Kauai, Maui and the Big Island to hitch a free ride to mainland shelters on Alaska Airlines airplanes, under the ticket of a flying passenger.

Alaska Airlines is the only airlines to have such a program. 

Since July 2013, when KHS jumped on board with the program, around 1,200 animals have been transferred off-island on Alaska Airlines aircraft.

Last fiscal year alone, KHS transferred 417 animals. The majority of those animals were dogs, Cistaro said.

“This was an informal program that we had on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island in an effort to help with the overcrowding of animal shelters,” said Daniel Chun, Hawaii regional marketing manager for Alaska Airlines. “Unfortunately, due to a situation beyond our control, the program has been halted and we’re still in the process of re-evaluating.”

That “situation” happened on the Big Island earlier this year, according to Tasi Autele of Big Island Dog Rescue, when a mix-up in communications led to several dogs left unattended at the airport.

“We have never had any problems with the ticketed passengers because we were always there at the drop off and the shelter on the receiving side always had someone to meet the people in baggage,” Cistaro said. “We’re not sure who Alaska Airlines is referring to, besides Big Island Dog Rescue.”

It’s a big blow for people at Maui and Kauai humane societies, Cistaro said, because neither of the islands’ shelters can afford to keep the programs afloat on their own.

Alaska Airlines did offer some help. The company is allowing humane societies to transfer animals at a rescue rate of $150 per animal, less than the general $200 transfer fee.

“That’s cost prohibitive for us,” Cistaro said. “If we transferred out 400 animals at $150 each, that’s $60,000 and we don’t have that kind of money. “

Kauai Humane Society only has the money to transfer around six animals a month off-island, whereas in last fiscal year the organization averaged about 34 animals transferred out a month.

It’s a case of one bad apple ruining the entire bushel, she explained, and it’s going to have a huge impact on the shelter.

“For both of us now, us and Maui, we’re screwed,” Cistaro said.

Staff members at KHS are scrambling for innovative fundraising ideas to keep the program afloat, along with the laundry list of other programs the humane society keeps going throughout the year.

Cistaro said the public’s opinion could possibly hold some sway over the airline company’s decision.

“I know that people would specifically purchase tickets on Alaska so they could do the transfer program and people loved the fact that Alaska Airlines was doing it,” Cistaro said.

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