During the devastating Fort McMurray wildfire, people weren’t the only ones who needed to escape. Hundreds of pets needed to evacuate too. Airlines typically restrict how many animals can be on board, but for several pilots, the choice was simple: no matter what the rules are, those pets wouldn’t be left behind.
Pilot Keith Mann, Suncor Energy’s manager of flight operations, is the owner of a “four-month-old golden retriever” and empathized with those trying to save their furry friends. He said, “the terminal was quite a sight. Just full of animals. We did everything we can to keep pets with their owners, and ensure that the flights were safe. That’s the Canadian way. We wanted to help.”
For about 50 hours, his planes saved cats, dogs, bunnies, frogs, hedgehogs, and even a chinchilla from the inferno. At times, there were close to 40 animals on board one flight, yet Mann reported that the trips were mostly peaceful.
Other airlines got in on the heartwarming action as well. People posted photos on social media thanking Canadian North and WestJet, who also allowed pets to fly in violation of policy. Canadian North flight attendant Wanda Murray said she knew many of the people riding the plane would have nothing to return to. For some, all they had left were their pets.
She said, “When we touched down, we got a standing ovation. It brought tears to our eyes. They are the heroes, not us. It’s a flight that will always remain in my memory.”