Flight Volunteers:

Let’s take a look at the travel of the dog through its eyes.


It’s 4:30 in the morning, and you are in a dark, very noisy, and quite likely chilly cargo hold. Your plane is descending, though all this means to you is that you are feeling air pressure discomfort…AGAIN. You have traveled on anywhere from two to five plane rides in the last one to three days. You have just left the only home you ever knew, and the people you were so familiar with for so long. You have been contained in a space just large enough to lie down in, and you have probably soiled that space for lack of other options. You are definitely hungry, thirsty, and very anxious about what exactly is happening. Although you are about to start the best, and final, chapter of your life, in a forever, loving home, you have no way of knowing or understanding that.

Your plane touches down – lots more scary noises. Then there is another long wait in the darkness, as you wonder what will come next. Will it be yet another plane ride? Will it be some terrifying ordeal, like those you likely experienced at least once in your old homeland, before you were rescued by compassionate people?

Your fear is compounded when you are transported to a cargo outbuilding. Once there, another wait. You are surrounded by loud, noisy people moving giant, heavy objects all around you. Their voices are not the familiar singsong you have always known, and sound frightening and foreign to your ears.

Suddenly, the crate you are in is hoisted onto a rolling cart and you are wheeled noisily through a pair of doors into the cargo office. Your stress level reaches new heights as an unfamiliar face bends down towards your crate door, big eyes stare into yours, and a big smile – showing lots of teeth – aims right at you. The cadence of the voice sounds friendly, but the body language looks a little threatening, especially in your nervous state.

You hear the popping noise of the crate door retracting open and although you want to trust the beckoning human face beyond, the noose they are moving towards you is too much to accept. The stress of all you have just been through and your survival instinct take over, and you bolt from your crate, shooting right past the surprised face of the person who was calling to you in an unfamiliar accent just moments before.

This is potentially how a dog has viewed the arrival into his adopted homeland. Of course, not all dogs will be as fearful as the one in this example, but it’s easy to see why even a calm dog can be pushed to extremes under the strain of so much travel in such a short space of time.


Let’s talk about you – and the dog-loving friend or family member whom you have enlisted to help you on this mission.

Before you fly to your destination, SDH needs the following:

  • A copy of your flight itinerary
  • Contact info (cell numbers, emails) for all adults flying

And you should have from us:

  • A SDH volunteer contacts name, number and email
  • A picture/description of the dog you are escorting home

What you’ll need:

  1. A form of ID on you (required to claim your dog from cargo)
  2. Payment, in case any additional fees were assessed (we’ll reimburse you)
  3. ALL the dogs paperwork which includes the Rabies Vaccination Certificate and the Health Certificate (provided by rescue in country you are visiting)
  4. Dogs leash (provided by rescue in country you are visiting)
  5. Name and number of a Street Dog Hero volunteer who will be your contact throughout your entire trip home and who you’ll meet when you land. 

Your return flight home and what to expect:
Someone will meet you at the airport 2 hours before you depart w/ the dog in a crate.   Make sure the dog(s) are the ones you are expecting to see and make sure they look visually healthy.   If you beat the dog to the airport and the volunteer meeting you is running late – go ahead and check in but please do not go through security until the last minute.  These dogs are counting on you and problems unforeseen have happened when the volunteer w/ the dog has been later than expected. 
Whoever meets you at the airport will give you all necessary paperwork for the dog.
PLEASE make sure you have the following:
– Rabies Certificate that includes info on the dog, the date of rabies shot, the product used and the name, address and signature of the veterinarian who administered it (unless you are flying back from a rabies free country – St. Thomas is one.
– Health Certificate that was issued no more than 10 days

Make sure the dog has the following in the crate: a blanket (or something to lay on) and a water bottle attached to the door – most times I will send this w/ you on your flight out and you will have to attach to the kennel door.  Before you open the door to attach the water bottle, please make sure you are in a confined place and have everyone ready to help catch the dog if it bolts once the door is open. For many of these dogs, the ride to the airport may have been their first ride in a car and probably their first time in a crate, so they will be nervous and scared.  Some airlines also require a food bowl.

Depending on what airline you are flying, there may be a special line for people traveling with dogs when checking in.  Please look for this when you are ready to check the dog and yourself.

Please text, or get ahold of you SDH volunteer to let them know all is good and your flight is on time (or not).


You have landed in the United States and now it’s time to get thru customs:

Each airport is different on how they push the dogs through customs.  Someone there will be able to tell you where to meet the dog, pick up the dog or who you may have to talk to with the dog.   

If you have a connecting flight after customs, the dog will need to be rechecked, which takes time and usually a lot of walking.  Beaware of how much time you have.  Whatever you do, DO NOT open the crate door.  The risk of them bolting and then trying to get them back into the kennel is not worth the risk. 

Please text your Street Dog Hero volunteer to let them know you have landed and have gotten the dog thru customs. 

When you reach your final destination:

Each airport is different on where you pick up the dogs. Someone at the airport will be able to direct you to where you’ll find the dog.

When your dog is brought out to you or you have found it at your final destination, DO NOT open the crate door. Although you will understandably feel very badly that it has spent a lot of time inside the crate already, rest assured that one last short drive is well worth not taking any unnecessary chances. Should your dog bolt and escape immediately after his arrival into an unfamiliar terrain, climate, and culture, its chances of being safely recovered are daunting.

A SDH volunteer will meet you at the airport to pick up the dog once you have arrived.  Please remember to keep in touch with your SDH volunteer throughout your trip home. 

Dog, crate, leash, anything the dog traveled with, all paperwork and any receipts for any fees/expenses you covered for the dog need to be given to the Street Dog Hero volunteer.   

If you spent any of your own money on the dog during the trip, please keep all receipts and give those to the SDH volunteer.  We will reimburse you as soon as possible. 

What to do if the unthinkable happens; things do and can go wrong. When the unexpected happens….

Things can happen that are out of our control.  I wish we had a manual for every situation and what to do, but every situation is different and so many different things can happen since we are dealing with different airlines, different airports, different customs agents, different airline employees, the list goes on. If something happens the best thing to do is to call Marianne Cox at 541.390.4232 or your SDH Volunteer.


Here are notes a flight volunteer took for us from her experience flying Alaska Airlines from Puerto Vallarta to Portland, connecting in San Francisco. 

Checkin at the airport (PVR)

– show the dog’s paperwork (proof of vaccinations)

– pay for dog to go in cargo (it was $100 w/Alaska, cards only – they don’t accept cash)

– put dog in crate

– crate gets zip-tied shut

– label with your name and name of dog goes on the outside of the crate with tags for each leg of the flight (once you and the dog are onboard the plane they bring you the tag at your seat)

– dog goes into cargo (like checked luggage)

On the plane

– An Alaska flight attendant brings you a tag at your seat once you and the dog are on board the plane

– pups are put in a pressurized area of cargo and the temperature is the same as in the cabin (yay!)

On the ground (customs and connection in SFO)


– go through customs yourself (this is where you get your passport stamped)

– make sure to select the box to declare “animal” on the declarations page

Baggage claim

– pick up the dog (in SFO this was in the baggage claim area – they brought the dog kennels out a specific door; I had to ask where to wait because the signage was hard to see)

Customs declaration

– go to animal customs where they check paperwork (shots, date of birth, etc)

– US customs this time around really wanted to make sure that rabies shots were given exactly at 3 months old, no earlier, no later

– US customs at SFO wanted the dog’s food in its original packaging and confiscated the food that I had in a zip lock bag

Ticket and re-check dog (if you have a connecting flight)

*this was the process at SFO with Alaska; it might be really different at another airport / with another airline

– kennel and dog go through inspection after ticketing where they open the crate and you keep the dog while they inspect the interior of the crate

– you put the dog is back in its crate and the inspection person re-zip-ties it shut

– you go back through security to your gate and the dog goes with an airline employee back to cargo (they’ll bring you another tag at your seat on the plane once the dog is in cargo again)


– the dogs came out in the baggage claim area in Alaska’s “special / oversize” luggage area