September 21, 2017 4:30 pm

How one woman helped airlift 300 pets from hurricane zones

WATCH ABOVE: U.S. animal rescue group rescues 300 dogs, cats from Caribbean islands

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Sali Gear had originally planned to rescue pets stranded by Hurricane Irma over several weeks.

The Virginia woman, who is the co-founder of animal rescue group Island Dog Rescue, planned to have about 20 cats and dogs from St. Thomas and St. Croix flown over to mainland U.S. each day.

A U.S. woman airlifted hundreds of animals from hurricane-ravaged islands.

Island Dog Rescue/Facebook

A U.S. woman airlifted hundreds of animals from hurricane-ravaged islands.

Island Dog Rescue

IN PHOTOS: Hurricane Maria leaves Puerto Rico in utter devastation

But then she heard Hurricane Maria was approaching.

“[Gear] was working with government organizations and it was taking too long to get things to happen,” Amy Briller, who worked with Gear on the effort, told Global News.

Plans quickly changed, and Gear decided she would charter a private plane from Amerijet to airlift about 300 animals from the islands.

WATCH: More coverage of Hurricane Maria


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“This is a Herculean effort to save these animals,” Gear told TV news station WAVY 10.

It was a Herculean effort, indeed. And it was made possible by an anonymous donation from a St. Thomas resident, along with funds from the Animal Welfare Institute, and other online donations.

The mission, according to its fundraiser page on Generosity.com, cost about $122,000.

READ MORE: Hurricane Maria lashes Dominican Republic with heavy rain, high winds

Briller said the animals were airlifted from St. Thomas’ airport Monday evening. The plane then landed in St. Croix to collect more animals, then finally touched down in Norfolk, Va.

“We’ve barely slept in days,” Briller told Global News, adding that both she and Gear have full-time jobs.

WATCH: More coverage of Hurricane Irma

Once the animals arrived at the Norfolk Airport, they were greeted by animal organizations and volunteers who were standing by with supplies and ready to transport them to shelters.

“We had tremendous community support.”

Briller said at least 50 volunteers were waiting as the flight landed, and there were enough vehicles for all the animals. Animal shelters from as far as Maine and Pittsburgh offered to help house the pets.

The mission, while tiring and expensive, saved the animals’ lives, Briller said, noting that Hurricane Maria wiped the roof off of St. Croix’s animal shelter.

The volunteers wrote about their experience on their Facebook page.

“It has been a long few days with hours and days rolling together,” the post read. “When things are this magnanimous one has to work quickly.”

Now, the organization is hoping they can help animals on other islands ravaged by hurricanes.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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