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  • C Johnston

Erica Staton: Rescuing & Transporting Animals

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Erica Staton is a flight attendant with Delta Airlines who has a heart for animals – and so rescued two dogs, two cats and two horses, all now living on her Ohio farm. But that wasn’t enough for Erica. Because there are way too many animals in need of permanent homes, she started Delta Animal Rescue Transport, or DART, enabling Delta and other airline employees to transport rescued animals to shelters or their forever homes.

Since being founded eight years ago, DART volunteers have donated their time and employee flight passes to transport about 1,700 dogs and cats on airlines in order to place them with permanent families.

“It all started with the Great Pug Race,” Erica explains with a laugh.

With many friends in the animal rescue world, Erica heard about two older pugs in Nevada whose owner had passed away while alone in his home. The two pugs loyally stayed by the side of their beloved owner for four days after he had passed, and they now needed a new home. Not many people want to adopt senior dogs, but fortunately the owner’s family members in Pittsburgh wanted them. At that time, snub-nosed dogs like pugs couldn’t be transferred in cargo due to potential breathing problems. Erica found a pet-loving co-worker to take the pugs on flights from Reno to Salt Lake City to their final destination in Pittsburgh. She coordinated the arrangements, starting with a custodian to check the dogs in and, like clockwork, pass them on to a flight attendant, who had to race with the two senior pups from one flight to another to get to the destination on time. Erica followed the progress from one flight to another, and the Great Pug Race was successful.

The family was thrilled. The loss had been traumatic for all of them, but they mourned and found a happy home with the pugs.

Word somehow spread and Erica started getting requests to help transport dogs and cats. She continued to help out, coordinating things quickly and, she admits, often more haphazardly than she liked. But she got things done. Soon she couldn’t keep up with the requests but was convinced of the need. Things had to be better organized. She realized that she would also need help from others and the blessing of Delta Airlines.

“Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Erica went to work planning Delta Animal Rescue Transport. She put together a plan, which she then presented to Delta’s Pass Bureau and Human Resources Department. She also sent an email to the Richard Anderson, who was Delta’s CEO at the time, and received a response within 24 hours. He had a rescue dog and was supportive of the concept.

“Delta, which I can’t say enough good things about as an employer and a business, has responded positively to DART from the very beginning.” Erica explains. “It’s important to note that Delta doesn’t sponsor DART, but Delta supports DART. And without that support, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.”

DART has five administrators, including Erica. Three are active, full-time employees and two are retired. They handle the logistics, coordinate with the involved parties, and log all details of the transports. And they are all busy, busy, busy, as Erica notes, particularly as these are all volunteer roles.

There are about 1,100 volunteer transporters who also help to make everything possible. They are active or retired flight attendants, pilots, machinists, gate agents, reservationists or ramp agents who use their precious free time and flight benefits in order to deliver animals to their new destinations. Many of the animals, Erica points out, are from southern states, where spaying and neutering animals is not as common as it is in the north, and so there is an overpopulation of dogs and cats needing homes. Transporting them, often from kill shelters, to no-kill shelters or directly to their forever homes, saves their lives.

DART only transports for rescue groups, not for personal reasons. Money or compensation is never exchanged; the group works on an entirely volunteer basis. When transport is needed, an application is requested online through DART and specified criteria must be followed.

Delta is not the only supportive airline, Erica says. United, Southwest, Allegiant and Spirit also support DART and its mission to provide transport for dogs and cats in need of a permanent home.

“I’ll never forget my first transport. It was a ten-week-old puppy that was going to be euthanized.”

Erica saved the puppy’s life by transporting it from Florida to a couple in Montana. He was a beagle-lab mix called Monty, because he was on his way to Montana. Erica fell in love with the endearing pup as she traveled on several flights and layovers with him. After reaching their destination, Erica caught sight of Monty’s new owner holding a “Welcome to Montana” sign. In all the years she had been flying, she’d never been greeted with a welcome sign and smile so big. She started crying. Her heart swelled, knowing the little guy who had no future in Florida would be well loved in Montana.

And he is. Today he’s called Buddy Love by his owners who adore him. The owners keep Erica updated on the dog. She describes him as “a short, squatty guy with a darling underbite and a lively spirit.” He even goes hiking and whitewater rafting with his family.

She handled that transport before she started DART, and it inspired her through the years. Previous rescues help to energize Erica to coordinate transports for other people to conduct. “I don’t want recognition for what I do,” she explains. “I love the results of DART. It makes my heart happy to see other people catch the passion to save and transport rescues.”

Each story, like each dog and cat, is different. And each is special. Every newly adopted pet makes a difference in the lives of the adopter.

One transport, in particular, is memorable for Erica.

A sweet white dog named Podkin was in a crowded shelter in California, getting overlooked, when an organization called Umbrella of Hope rescued him and began to search for his new family. Podkin had a condition called microtia, in which one of his ears was underdeveloped, causing deafness in that ear. Across the country in South Carolina a little boy named Henry also had microtia, a deformity that caused him a great deal of emotional pain. The match of boy-and-dog was heaven sent, except for the expanse of country between them. DART stepped in and provided transport, aided by two volunteers, to make the special delivery.

Reports are that Podkin and Henry quickly became inseparable. The two were a great buddies, and Henry took Podkin to school and found that the cool pup was a great way to explain his hearing disability.

“DART just doesn’t make travel arrangements. DART changes lives. For people and their pets,” says Erica.

“The righteous care for the needs of their animals…”

– Proverbs 12:10

A message from one of the rescue organizations that has worked with DART, Furry Flights to Freedom, speaks volumes. "The volunteers at Dart are amazing, reliable and loving humans who understand what is needed to fly a rescue animal safely to their furever home. We all know rescue isn't always easy but the process, from start to finish, is easy with Dart. Mother Teresa said, ‘It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving’ and Dart definitely gives all their love to our rescue nation of pups and cats!"


If you would like more information, go to Delta Animal Rescue Transport.

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