By Tui Benjamin and James Speakman
Two starving street dogs so emaciated one was hours from death now look unrecognisable after they were flown to a new life in Britain – when they made it onto a Boeing 747 carrying medical supplies during the lockdown.
Animal lover Andrea Siddons, 51, was left in tears when she rescued five-year-old English pointer Elsa at the end of February and again when she found Hugo, an 18-month-old German short-haired pointer, in early March as the two pooches were so skeletal their bones were clearly visible through their fur.
Andrea, who runs Cyprus Dog Rescue from her home outside Larnaca on the island, nursed the pups back to full health and had planned to eventually send them to new homes in the UK on commercial flights, but when the coronavirus pandemic began to grip the globe all non-essential passenger planes were grounded.
Instead, the charity worker teamed up with British Airways, its sister company IAG Cargo, pet transport service AIA Pets and dozens of other animal rescues across Cyprus to help charter a Boeing 747 cargo jet bringing food, perishables and essential medical supplies to take Hugo and Elsa, as well as 34 other dogs and 14 cats, back to new homes in the UK.
Heart-warming video footage shows the neglected four-legged friends’ journey from when they were first adopted by Andrea to them making the four-hour cargo flight Larnaca to London Heathrow on April 9 and playing happily in their new temporary, Dogs4Rescue in Eccles, Salford.
Rochdale-born Andrea, who currently has 32 dogs in her home-based rescue, said: “When I first saw Elsa I thought she was going to die, she was in such a terrible state.
“I saw a video of her first and it just broke my heart
“I was trying desperately to get her out of the pound the same day as I thought she might die overnight; she was hours from death.
“Then, I was at the vet when someone brought Hugo in, he was just stood there with his bones hanging out.
“It was just so upsetting, I burst into tears again.
“When I saw them in real life, both she and Hugo looked much worse – I was heartbroken.
“When they came up to me and wagged their tails and were so loving, it made me cry all over again.
“But within weeks they had transformed themselves, they did so well so quickly, which was how they got on the flight.
“You can’t even tell they’re the same dogs.
“We normally send dogs back to the UK on commercial flights, and have been doing this for many years, but then stopped landing in Cyprus due to the coronavirus lockdown.
“This was the first time we had put dogs on a cargo flight, and it was a lot of work and stress because it was something we’d never done before.
“There were lots of restrictions we had to follow, but it was almost like a dream come true how well it went in the end.
“It was such an amazing feeling to see Hugo and Elsa happy and playing together when they got to the UK – it made it all worthwhile.”
The 36 dogs and 14 cats brought back to the UK on the flight were all abandoned and left on the streets across Cyprus.
After the pets were carefully loaded into the plane’s hold in crates, BA staff and animal handlers ensured they received specialist care and attention to keep them calm during the journey.
After the animals landed at Heathrow, a specialist pet courier then drove through the night to bring Hugo and Elsa to Dogs4Rescue, where they are staying until they can be adopted by new families after the coronavirus lockdown is over.
The rest of the animals travelled by road to Gatwick’s Animal Reception Centre, before being safely collected by new owners from across the UK.
British Airways Captain, Paul Walker-Northwood, who flew the plane and has previously adopted four pooches of his own from Cyprus Dog Rescue, said: “In these difficult times, our teams are working around the clock to help bring customers home and fly essential supplies into the UK and to communities around the world most in need.
“As well as bringing in those supplies on this flight, we were pleased to support this mission to bring these new four-legged family members to the UK to give them the chance of better, more comfortable lives here with their new owners.
“At British Airways, animal welfare is important to us and we know how important it is to our customers. We are sure their arrival will bring real much-needed pleasure to their new families during a challenging period.”
Andrea moved to Cyprus 11 years ago to open a clothing store, before launching her charity in 2011 after coming across a shockingly large number of stray dogs in the country.
She rescued Elsa when she was discovered as a stray by a member of the public and taken to a municipal pound before rescuing Hugo days later when he was discovered in a field.
When she was found Elsa weighed just 2st 3lbs, little more than half the healthy weight for a dog of her breed at 4st 4lbs, while Hugo was even more underweight, weighing 1st 8lbs, less than half the healthy size for his breed at 3st 9lbs.
Being such low weights can damage dogs’ organs, but other than severe dehydration and starvation, miraculously neither Elsa nor Hugo were suffering from any other medical conditions.
Emma Billington from Dogs4Rescue, where the pooches are currently staying until they find their forever homes, said: “Andrea went to extraordinary lengths.
“We are in constant awe at her ability, will and determination.
“We are so proud to know Andrea and be able to take some of her dogs.
“The behind the scenes level of organisation and stress to make this happen is hard to comprehend – she is so brave and so selfless.”
To donate to Cyprus Dog Rescue: go to https://fundrazr.com/e1eWrd?ref=fb_f8wlra_ab_1zDIET2vCHY1zDIET2vCHY