HONOLULU (KHON2) — With more animals and less space, Hawaii’s municipal shelters have become overcrowded and in need of help. One pilot program started by the Hawaii Police Department is aiming to do that by transferring pets to permanent homes on the mainland.

The project is in partnership with Paws Across Water Hawaii (PAWHI), which is under the management of a nonprofit located in Kailua-Kona.

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“We’re excited to give these animals a new opportunity to find loving forever homes on the mainland,” said County Animal Control Director Regina Serrano. “Although our County is referred to as the Big Island, we are actually limited in the amount of homes that are willing or able to adopt a shelter pet.”

Here’s how the program works:

  • Travelers from the Big Island to San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, San Joe, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland can volunteer to have a shelter animal added to their airline reservations. Flights need to be direct or with one, brief inter-island stop when going to the Bay Area.
  • Hawaii County’s Animal Control will try to find local ownership of an animal before determining which shelter pets are suitable for the program, which include senior animals.
  • Animal Control will then spay and neuter the animals, conduct health screenings and vaccinations.
  • PAWHI will handle the travel details, including costs for the animal and a travel crate, and pair the pet with a volunteer traveling to that area, then prepare the animal for travel.
  • After landing, a representative with a designated rescue organization will meet the traveler, and the pet begins its journey toward finding a forever home.

Currently, the pilot program is partnering with six rescue organizations in California and Washington. It’s using flights only on Hawaiian Airlines and Alaskan at this time.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, the program successfully sent its first dog to California. The four-year-old whippet mix named Peaches is now living with one of Wagging Dog Rescue’s fosters. The program plans to transfer 50 to 100 animals in the next six to 12 months.

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Those interested in becoming an animal flying companion may contact Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary at (808) 331-8778 or email ann@pawhi.org. For information about becoming a transfer partner with Hawaii County’s Animal Control, email hpdanimalcontrol@hawaiicounty.gov.