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Pups on a plane – How the Lansing Airport became the landing spot for 52 displaced dogs

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After an Oklahoma fire, dozens of dogs were brought to South Suburban Humane Society – via Lansing

LANSING, Ill. (May 1, 2023) – Tom Gorski and Scott Patterson are tasked with the maintenance of the Lansing Municipal Airport — from clearing miles of snow in the winter to cutting acres of grass in the summer. On March 14, the pair added unloading a flight of dozens of dogs to their to-do list.

Fire and flight

An animal shelter near Tulsa, Oklahoma suffered a fire in March, and the dogs at the shelter were taken by the Bissell Pet Foundation, which offers transportation services for animals involved in disasters such as fires and tornadoes.

South Suburban Humane Society, located in Matteson, received a notice from the foundation asking if they would be able to accept some of the displaced animals.

“Normally, we’re not in a position to help because we’re constantly full all the time,” said Emily Klehm, CEO of South Suburban Humane Society. “But when our Chief Operating Officer got an email asking if anyone could help with the situation in Oklahoma, we had some space. So we said yes.”

The best way to get the pets to Matteson? On a propeller plane to the Lansing Municipal Airport.

On Monday, March 13, the airport received a voicemail from a pilot inquiring about using Lansing’s airport to make the drop-off. Airport Maintenance Supervisor  Tom Gorski returned the call but left a message.

“We didn’t actually know they were coming here,” said Patterson, who works closely with Gorski on airport maintenance. The pair realized their help was needed when South Suburban Humane Society staff arrived at their office the next morning and needed directions.

Together, both South Suburban Humane Society and airport staff unloaded the 52 dogs off the small plane and transferred them to the humane society’s van.

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Of the 52 dogs that flew into the Lansing Municipal Airport, 50 of them came to South Suburban Humane Society. (Photo provided)

“It was a lot of noise,” Gorski said, remembering the barking dogs. “We don’t usually get things like that …  It just happened that we ended up with it that day. It was a cool experience, helping those animals out.”

Safely landing in a new home

Once the 50 dogs were driven to Matteson (two went to a facility in Hinsdale), the humane society began the process of taking in the pets.

“There’s so much work that people maybe don’t understand that goes into doing something like this. We had a whole line of staff that all came out to get [the dogs] all off the van. They had to come in and get their incoming exam here, and get any additional vaccines they needed. And then they had to get to their temporary kennel waiting for fosters to show up. So that whole day was just a massive operation with all hands on deck,” Klehm said.

South Suburban Humane Society needed all hands on deck to transport the cute cargo into the facility. (Photos provided)

Between foster parent adoptions, adoption events, and the usual steady demand for puppies, all of the dogs that flew from Tulsa to Lansing have been adopted.

Mostly puppies, the dogs that flew into Lansing in March are now all adopted. (Photo provided)
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Multiple adoption events at local pet stores helped match the displaced rescue dogs to new homes. (Photos provided)

“We’d had a pretty good month of February for adoptions, and we had a couple of adoption events coming up, and generally it’s easier to find fosters for puppies than it is for adult dogs. So it was a combination of good things that came together for us to be able to help,” Klehm said.

Love at first sight

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Bella came all the way from Tulsa to meet her new family, the Pattersons. (Photo provided)

One of the 52 dogs barely made it onto the tarmac before meeting her new owner.

While moving the dogs from the plane to the van, Patterson fell in love with a German Shepherd he’s since named Bella.

“Scott grabbed the cage for Bella, and he said, ‘I want this dog,'” Gorski said.

“She just looked like she was beat down and didn’t have much hope left,” Patterson said. “I just thought, ‘I want to take that dog home.'”

After Bella was brought to South Suburban Humane and received all her necessary tests and paperwork, Patterson and his wife went to see her.

“My wife played with Bella in the meet-and-greet area [and said], ‘Yep, we’re taking this dog home,'” Patterson said. “We’ve got three other dogs so what’s one more?”

South Suburban Humane Society is located at 21800 Central Avenue in Matteson. The Lansing Municipal Airport offices are located at 3250 Bob Malkas Drive in Lansing.

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Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.

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