Two rescue dogs who were on their way to their forever homes ran away at JFK Airport, leaving the group that brought them in a desperate search since Thursday.
The pair of pups — Zara and Stephanie — were saved from the streets of Russia by Alex Shabelsky's non-profit called petatet. He said that the group's goal is to try and save "every single animal we can from all over the world," and said that having the two dogs run off has been "very emotional."
Normally Shabelsky said he picks the dogs up from locations near and far, from South Carolina, to Puerto Rico, all the way to Russia. But COVID-19 travel restrictions have grounded his travels — and halted families from getting their new pets sooner.
"We've just had had nightmare after nightmare, with so many families waiting for dogs," Shabelsky said.
The dogs flying in from Russia had to travel on their own, on a cargo plane. Shabelsky and his wife met them at JFK Airport's cargo hangar. He said the group has a policy to not open the cages that the animals travel in, given that they are often "under so much stress after flying so long."
However, this time the cages didn't fit in Shabelsky's car, so he said they had no choice but to take them out. He and his wife tried to take Zara and Stephanie for a walk, when the sound of a plane taking off spooked the pups — and they took off running. Zara escaped her harness, while Stephanie was still wearing her two leashes.
After searching overnight, Zara was spotted sitting on a median between traffic on the Belt Parkway Friday morning. She appeared healthy, when they though tragedy struck.
"She (ran) right in front of the car, right in front of my eyes," Shabelsky said. The car struck the dog on her side, and Shabelsky said the driver didn't so much as slow down.
Still, a stranger showed them kindness, as a police officer escorted the couple and Zara to a nearby animal hospital. She was examined and is being held overnight for monitoring, but she is expected to survive.
However, Stephanie is still on the run.
"She is very shy, she is very scared, she is very friendly," said Shabelsky. The groups is asking anyone who sees her to reach out to rescue.petatet.org so they can get her to her family waiting for her in Massachusetts.
"Someone will spot her eventually. I hope so, I pray for that and we'll save her," Shebelsky said.