NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- At about midnight on Friday, June 27, a single engine plane set down on a darkened runway at Harriman-West Airport for the last delivery of the night -- a 10-year-old black Labrador named Tess.
Snuggled down in her bed in the back of the plane, Tess arrived with infected pressure sores and urine burns, and still trying to heal from a dislocated hip suffered when she was hit by a car during the last days of May in North Carolina.
Over the following month, a loose-knit network of canine rescuers and volunteer pilots have gone to great lengths to rescue Tess from being euthanized and to treat her injuries.
Tess’ long journey began when she was found by the side of a North Carolina road and wound up in the custody of the Gaston animal control. Once released from emergency care to repair her hip, she was due to be put down.
Emails and Facebook posts started alerting local rescuers. On June 2, the day before she was scheduled for the needle, a volunteer took Tess away from animal control and brought her to a veterinarian thought to be caring and thorough.
When it was time for rehabilitation, Tess was retrieved on June 9 by Dorsey Patrick of Lake Wylie, S.C., owner of the nonprofit black lab rescue outfit Jessie’s Place Rescue. But, Patrick said, Tess had been neglected. With severely infected pressure sores and urine burns, it seemed that she had not been moved in some time.
She was near death, Patrick said.
So instead of rehabilitation treatment for her hip at Arbor Creek Animal Hospital and Rehabilitation Clinic in Holly Springs, N.C., Tess had to endure emergency treatment to kill the infections and heal her wounds. She was losing weight and not interested in eating.
While Tess was being treated, Patrick had to find a place where Tess could stay and get rehabilitation and treatment after her release. Patrick contacted registered nurse and a certified animal assisted therapist Kathy Hynes of Cheshire. She was a friend that had moved back north who also volunteers as a foster home for dogs with special medical needs.
Hynes agreed right away to take Tess.
"Black dogs in shelters in the south are usually the first ones to be put down because they are harder to adopt out," Hynes said. "So an old black dog with an injury really doesn’t have a prayer."
Tess now had a place to live, but no way to get from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
After intensive treatment at Arbor Creek, Tess was transported to another emergency animal hospital in Raleigh, N.C., for ongoing treatment while Patrick and Hynes tried to find air transport.
By June 27, two volunteers from Pilots N Paws, a nationwide online network of volunteer private pilots who transport thousands of animals in need of rescue every year, had been lined up by Hynes for a one-stop flight out of the Carolinas. Once the flight was set, two other dogs in need of rescue transport were added to the passenger list.
According to Doug, the pilot that landed in North Adams and declined to give his last name because "it’s not about me," the pilots volunteer for the duty because it combines their passion for flying and their love of animals.
The first pilot left the Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 6 p.m. and arrived at the Delaware Airpark in Dover at 8:30 p.m., where Doug was the connecting flight. Doug and his three canine passengers flew to the Flying W Airport in N.J., where the two last-minute passengers disembarked, taken by two other members of the rescue network.
Then Tess was flown to North Adams. After traveling 500 miles in the sky, she was retrieved by Hynes.
"The whole thing started because Tess needed to come up here," Doug said. He works as a commercial banker in Manhattan.
"Down south, there are way too many unwanted animals, and in the north, there are a lot of adoptive families," Doug noted. "And I am always blown away by how much these rescue people put into it. Compared to that, mine is a small contribution."
He said there are more than 4,000 volunteer pilots with Pilots N Paws, and 10,000 more volunteers on the ground.
Once on the ground again, Hynes gingerly lifted Tess, who looked weak and skinny with bandages on her sores and three legs wrapped in more bandages, out of her bed in the plane and set her on her feet on the ground. Amazingly, Tess began walking toward the gate under her own steam. She seemed eager to move around.
Tess is obviously comfortable around people, happy to let strangers stroke her fur and say hi. She seems easy-going.
Already, $4,000 in donations and $1,000 of Patrick’s money have paid for Tess’ treatment and recovery. But more is needed.
Tess will be treated by Hynes, but while Hynes is at work, Tess will be treated at the Berkshire Veterinary Hospital at 7301 2 Crane Ave., where she received 24-hour treatment for a few days after her flight from North Carolina.
She arrived in her new home with Hynes and Patrick, who flew in from the Carolinas to visit her, for the first time on Thursday, July 3.
Tess also will be receiving physical therapy to help in her recovery.
Anyone wishing to help Tess pay her medical bills can send a donation to Tess in care of the Berkshire Veterinary Hospital, Hynes said.
Tess is walking well, although she still tires easily. She also is regaining her appetite. But she’s still got a long road ahead.
Still, through the help of more than a dozen people -- most of whom do not know each other and some who have never even seen Tess -- she has a fighting chance for a happy life in a forever home.
"It’s amazing she survived at all," Hynes said. "She has survived what some younger dogs would not have."