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Big hearts from the Big Island

Columbia Humane Society teams up with newly established dog rescue organization in Hawaii


COLUMBIA HUMANE SOCIETY PHOTO - Tasi Autele, left, hands off Frodo to Heather Mansfield of Columbia Humane Society. Frodo is a rescued dog from Hawaii who was flown to Oregon to be adopted in Columbia County.

They might not know it, but pet adopters in Columbia County are helping save the lives of abandoned and stray animals from Hawaii.

Columbia Humane Society’s newest partner is Big Island Dog Rescue, on the island of Hawaii. The newly founded rescue organization blossomed out of one man’s mission to do right by his daughter.

Tasi Autele recalls the day he took his family to their local humane society to make a donation. Through his blog, he retells the story of stepping up to what seemed an impossible task.

His 4-year-old daughter, mingling with a frightened dog as she strolled the kennels at the shelter, looked at the shelter worker. 

“‘My daddy is going to save him,’” Autele recounts of the experience on his blog. “‘He’s going to save them all.’” 

Not wanting to shatter his daughter’s illusion of the world or the canine condition, he agreed with her.

Autele and his family had recently moved to the Big Island from Oregon, where they still have family in Columbia County. Autele networked with family and resources back home and was put in touch with Dean Cox, director of the Columbia Humane Society.

Cox was able to expand on a transfer program already in place at the local shelter and, within days, Autele was facilitating airline flights of dogs from high kill shelters on the island to rural Columbia County.

Cox estimates the Columbia Humane Society has now adopted out about 60 dogs from Hawaii.

“We’re the only receiving shelter so far,” Cox said Tuesday, en route to Portland International Airport to pick up four more dogs from Big Island Dog Rescue. “In essence, we’ve made the Big Island ‘no kill.’”

The transfers are made possible by a chaperone program. Dogs fly as carry-on passengers in the cabin on flights via Alaska Airlines. The cost is $100 each way, according to the airline, but the rescue site estimates it incurs costs of more than $300 per transfer.

Big Island Dog Rescue is now partnering with other Pacific Northwest shelters to help transfer dogs that would otherwise be euthanized in overpopulated shelters on the Big Island.

“It’s a local connection,” Cox said. “It’s a beautiful story.”

Others have gotten involved, too.

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge met with Autele on a recent vacation to Hawaii. When Burge got back to Scappoose, he decided he wanted to help Autele and Big Island Dog Rescue’s mission.

“All of the Hawaiian Islands, and especially the big ones — it’s a high kill rate in the shelters,” Burge said. “It’s a high priority to ship them off the island to a place like Columbia County.”

Wanting to help raise money for the transport efforts, Burge came up with the idea to host a fundraiser poker tournament. The name of the event — think iconic images of dogs playing cards at a table — is dubbed the “Dogs Playing Poker” poker tournament.

Burge will host the event at the St. Helens Elks Lodge on Saturday, May 2. The tournament kicks off at 6 p.m. Initial buy-in is $40, with additional buy-ins for $20. A raffle with prizes is also scheduled.

Half of the prize money will go to the rescue, with the other half given away as prize money, Burge said.

Those who can’t attend the tournament, but might be traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii, can help rescue dogs by signing up to be a chaperone on an Alaska Airlines flight. Please visit www.bigislanddogrescue.com or columbiahumane.com for more information.

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