Pet owners want to hire a plane to get their animals back home.
Pet owners want to hire a plane to get their animals back home. Rob Williams

Pet owners urge Aust-US Noah's Ark flight

A Noah's Ark-style flight from Australia to the US is being organised by pet owners desperate to get their cats and dogs home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cost of the Boeing 747 private charter could exceed $US1 million ($A1.53 million) with pet owners and other passengers on the flight splitting the cost.

Heartbroken families, including Americans who were working in Australia but suddenly lost their jobs and visas when COVID-19 hit, were faced with the dilemma of not only packing up and moving back to the US but scrambling to get their pets home.

Airlines have shut down or substantially cut the number of flights from Australia to the US for human passengers and the pet owners say there are no commercial options for pets.

Families were forced to leave their pets in Australia and fly to the US or stay in Australia and hope a flight opens up.

"It is heartbreaking for our family, especially the children," Kirsten Brooks, a mother of four children aged under 12, told AAP on Sunday from her home in Texas.

The Brooks family lived in Darwin for three years and adopted a mixed breed dog, Tex, when he was a puppy.

"He really helped my kids adjust to living in Australia and missing their friends," Ms Brooks said.

"He slept with one of them every night."

The family planned to fly to Texas in mid-May, but left last month when the pandemic began shutting down flights and their employer encouraged them to leave.

Tex is well cared for by a foster family in Darwin but the Brooks fear it could be October or next year before flights for pets are opened back up.

An "Americans With Pets Stuck in Australia" Facebook page was set up by US architect Justin Kearnan, who along with his fiancee Brenna Jewitt, were frustrated with attempts to get their Great Dane, Sundae, back to the US on a commercial flight.

Kearnan reached out to Brisbane-based Monarc Global.

They are hoping to charter a Boeing 747, but need at least 300 to 400 people on the flight to book seats to keep costs down to around $US2500 to $US5500 ($A3825 to $A8400) each.

The cats and dogs may fly in the cabin with passengers.

Rodger and Brett Cambria moved from California to Melbourne 18 months ago with their five cats, including Queso, a three-legged ginger they saved from being euthanised.

Ms Cambria quit her job in early April just as the lockdown was starting and flights were being cancelled.

"We've been ready to return to the US for over a month, but don't want to leave our animals behind and don't want to place them in a kennel for an indeterminate amount of time," Mr Cambria said.

"So essentially, we are stuck here with no jobs and a sponsored work visa that is ticking down to its expiration date."

Another American, Dylan Whitehead, lost his insurance industry job in Melbourne in March, returned to the US to find work but as the virus spread he had "a few extremely stressful weeks" attempting to get his wife, children and Annie, their beloved Basset Fauve de Bretagne, home.

His family made it, but a hold was placed on Annie and she is being cared for by friends in Melbourne.

Laura Read, an American living in Melbourne with her dogs Jet and Panda, was made redundant as COVID-19 rocked the economy.

"This means my visa expires 60 days after my last pay cheque and I must go back to the US," she said.

"The problem is I will not leave without my pets, they are my family."

The stranded include Australian Emma Chiu who was set to fly to New York with her cat Milo and reunite with her fiance, a member of the US Navy.

"When I contacted the US consulate here they said unfortunately they couldn't help since pets aren't considered a citizen," Ms Chiu said.

"That was heartbreaking since pets are just like family and I can say my cat has been my best friend, especially during this pandemic."

Originally published as Pet owners urge Aust-US Noah's Ark flight


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