Special homecomings are far from unusual at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
But more than 70 this past weekend could put a smile on the face of even the most dedicated holiday Grinch.
A flight from China, organized by the organization No Dogs Left Behind, brought dogs that had been rescued months ago from slaughter in illegal meat markets to adoptive families waiting for them in the United States.
“I think there were even a few from Queens,” Jeff Beri, a Manhattan native who founded the organization in 2017, told the Chronicle in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Golden retrievers, pugs, mutts and others who were seized from crowded cages on trucks and at slaughterhouses now are settling in with new families, tennis balls and liver-flavored treats.
Beri works in China with a network of volunteers who plan and act with quasi-military precision.
“We’ll attack trucks, warehouses, slaughterhouses,” Beri said. “Some say we rescue these animals from ‘the dog meat trade,’ but I don’t recognize that. It’s illegal in China. You can’t have a ‘trade’ in something that is illegal.”
In one example, he said, they have a member who is authorized by the Chinese government to demand documentation that the dogs on-site have been paid for and legally obtained.
“They usually can’t do that, and the fines from the government are a lot higher than the cost of losing the dogs. We take them. We’ve never paid for a single dog.”
They bring the rescued pooches to their own shelters in various regions of China, giving the dogs medical care, sterilizing them and getting them into routines for feeding and exercise.
“We have to teach them to trust humans again,” he said.
George LeRoy told the Chronicle that he was looking in the group’s website back in the spring when he ran across a photograph of a pug named Lolli.
“We adopted her back in May,” he said.
Covid restrictions required 88 dogs to be held in quarantine in China for these months.
LeRoy said eight families had their hearts broken upon learning their dogs had died.
“They didn’t even make it to the plane,” Beri said, adding that they are still trying to get an explanation from authorities in China.
But Beri said few things are better than seeing the first meeting of a rescued, rehabilitated dog and a new family.
“I’m a tough guy,” Beri said. “But that makes tears stream down my face.”