A fast-growing puppy named Biggie and a cockatiel named Baby Bird from Florida were reunited with their Vineyard family recently after a summer of many tears and the coordinated effort of animal lovers.
“My dad gave me this dog before he died; I think this is my connection to him,” said Tiara Lee, 13, seated next to her eight-year-old brother Elijah Matthews. Their mother, Nicole Matthews, stands by and watches the three on the couch.
Biggie is a five-month-old puppy and looks like Petey, that black and white dog in Spanky and Our Gang movies of years ago. He is a mix, part border collie, dalmation and pit bull. Four-year-old Baby Bird also is a fond reminder for the family; Mrs. Matthews received the cockatiel as a little bird from her husband as a birthday gift.
Ms. Matthews’s husband Duke, 52, was killed in a construction accident on July 17. At the time, the family lived with 11 dogs and a bird in Middleburg, Fla., a little town 35 miles west of Jacksonville.
When the father died, the family quickly came to the Vineyard, where Ms. Matthews has a deep family connection. She grew up on the Vineyard and graduated from the regional high school in 1988. Her mother is Shelley Carter, who works for the town of Oak Bluffs and is a council member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
The funeral was held in Wareham, and after her husband was interred, Ms. Matthews said, her children didn’t want to go back to Florida.
As a temporary solution, the many pets left back in Florida were taken care of by caring neighbors Gregory Jackson and A.J. Wilcox. All the animals but two were put up for adoption; there was talk of trying to get the remaining two to the Vineyard.
Shelley Carter took her grieving daughter and family in at her Vineyard Haven home and started looking for other ways to help. Ms. Carter is an administrative assistant for the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen. Ms. Carter said she spoke to Shirley Fauteux, the town’s health agent, and selectman Kerry Scott about the problem with the animals back in Florida. They too reached out for help via their telephones.
Kym Cyr got wind of the need. Ms. Cyr runs a nonprofit in Oak Bluffs called Second Chance Animal Rescue Inc., formed in February. Ms. Cyr is a secretary for student support at the Superintendent’s Office in Tisbury.
“Basically I called Nicole Matthews and got the story,” said Ms. Cyr. She then took the story to Anna Bell (ABell) Washburn of Edgartown and New York city, a founder and president of PAWS, Pet Adoption Welfare Service based in Edgartown. The two worked together in a coordinated effort to try to get the two pets to the Vineyard at no expense to the family. But Mrs. Cyr said the Vineyarders were stymied for weeks trying to bring about a positive result.
Resolution was both complicated and expensive. Ms. Matthews was grieving and had no job.
Ms. Cyr said: The two animals needed veterinarian checkups for health certificates before they could get on the plane, plus they needed pet crates. Plus, early this month, the would-be rescuers learned that airlines planned to initiate a policy prohibiting the unaccompanied transportation of dogs over 20 pounds that had any pit bull blood in them. Biggie weighed 22 pounds. The deadline to get Biggie on a plane had to be Monday, Oct. 15.
Darla Duffey and her husband Ernie run Sheltie Rescue, a business in Jacksonville, and they got the urgent call days before the deadline. “We got the dog and bird and brought them to our home on Friday, Oct. 12. It was crazy. In the 25 years we’ve been doing this we’ve never been asked to do anything like this. Fortunately I have a husband who is as nutty as I am,” Mrs. Duffey said.
“We called a gal [who] raises birds and ships them around the country,” Mrs. Duffey said. “She told us what to do and we followed the instructions to the letter.”
They booked the two animals on a 10 a.m. Continental flight from Jacksonville to Newark for Sunday, Oct. 14, with a changeover to Boston on flight 1172.
But the flight to Newark was delayed. “I followed the airplane on the Continental Web site. I was having a heart attack, worrying about that bird. I wondered what would happen to those two little animals in Newark if they missed their flight,” said Mrs. Duffey. Fortunately, the animals made their connecting flight.
The Matthews family picked up the pets at Boston’s Logan Airport late that afternoon.
Since the family has been reunited with the pets, Biggie is as affectionate as ever. On Wednesday afternoon, he was quick to lick Elijah’s face.
From her New York city home, Mrs. Washburn said she is so pleased that the family is reunited. PAWS paid for the airplane flight and the extra steps that were needed. “This is the happiest part of being able to help,” she said. “Kym’s group Second Chance, PAWS and a group in Jacksonville all worked on this. We all worked together to bring this puppy and bird to this young boy and girl.”
“I want to say thank you to so many. We are so appreciative, deeply touched. We are a very tight family with kids and animals,” Ms. Matthews said.