Rescue dogs from Afghanistan bring barks and love to B.C.

The rescue was code-named Mission Possible

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On Tuesday morning, when a Russian Il-76 transport aircraft touches down and 300 animals rescued from Afghanistan are transferred to a specially constructed 17,000-square-foot facility at Vancouver International Airport, Lori Kalef will probably shed a few tears.


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The director of programs at SPCA International has been working around the clock since international troops pulled out of Afghanistan to arrange an airlift to save 158 dogs and 146 cats stranded in Kabul.

The rescue was code-named Mission Possible.

“I’ve been living, breathing and eating this for the last five months,” said Kalef, who worked with the Kabul Small Animal Rescue after that shelter was unable to get their animals out of Afghanistan during the evacuations in Aug. 2021.

Dogs are loaded in preparation for their flight from Kabul to Vancouver.
Dogs are loaded in preparation for their flight from Kabul to Vancouver. Photo by SPCA International

Shelter founder Charlotte Maxwell-Jones drew international attention to the plight of the animals on Twitter, ran fundraising campaigns, gathered as many animals as she could and braved the dangerous road to the airport and tried to secure a flight.


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“She was able to get to the airport, the dogs made it into a hangar, but after many days waiting in their cages, in horrendous circumstances we weren’t able to get a flight,” said Kalef. The military forced her to release all the animals at the airport.

Some of the animals perished, others remained stuck at the airport for months.

“It was horrifying, but we never gave up,” said Kalef.

Desperate owners in Afghanistan who were unable to bring their pets with them on evacuation flights brought more pets to Maxwell-Jones, or just left them at the airport.

Kalef worked with KSAR , and partners War Paws , Marley’s Mutts , RainCoast Dog Rescue Society , and Thank Dog I Am Out Rescue Society to organize the rescue.

“It was next to impossible,” said Kalef. “We couldn’t get landing permits, overflight permits, permission from the U.S. State department.”


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Originally the plan was to try to get the pets to the United States, but the timing coincided with a U.S. Centres for Disease Control suspension of dog imports from high-risk countries. So Canada became the destination.

“People will ask why rescue these pets when we have so many animals that need homes already here in Canada,” said Kalef. “Had they stayed, their fate would be certain death.”

After finally securing an aircraft, the flight on the Russian-owned charter was nearly derailed because of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. “We had to reroute the plane, with two rest spots, one in Turkey and then Iceland,” said Kalef.

Kalef said the cats and dogs are all vaccinated and healthy, and doing “exceptionally well.”


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Many were pets that belonged to embassy staff, and about 80 will be returned to their original owners, but the rest will be looking for forever homes.

Adoption applications can be made here , SPCA International will have a live Facebook feed of the dogs unloading from the plane on Tuesday morning, and yes, said Kalef, applications are also being accepted for volunteers to help give the pups a little love. Volunteers can apply through Thank Dog I’m Ou t.

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