Exotic Arrivals at JFK: Icelandic Ponies and West Bank Dogs Touch Down in New York

Abu-Ghazalah described the shelter as a slice of paradise. However, in December, the escalating tensions in the West Bank during the Israel-Hamas conflict forced him to make a tough decision. He could no longer sustain the shelter. That’s when he reached out to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International, which in turn contacted the ARK.

The ARK at JFK Airport is a marvel that even Noah couldn’t have envisioned. Operating around the clock, this private facility at New York’s largest airport caters to a diverse clientele. From thoroughbred racehorses to rare zoo creatures, the ARK is equipped to meet the needs of various animals.

Spanning 14 acres and 178,000 square feet, the facility is designed to ensure animals are ready for international flights. It focuses on keeping them calm, ensuring they travel at comfortable temperatures, and providing ample food and water. Upon arrival in New York, it also takes care of quarantining the animals if needed and preparing them for their onward journeys.

Lori Kalef, the director of programs at SPCA International, shared that since the ARK’s inception at Kennedy seven years ago, it has facilitated the rescue of 1,300 dogs and cats from abroad, with 90 percent passing through this facility.

On a particular Friday morning, a team of workers and volunteers from her organization convened at the ARK to tackle the logistics of transporting dogs from the West Bank. Despite several delays, they remained hopeful.

Their spirits lifted when they received news of the dogs’ imminent arrival. The group made their way to the ARK’s “pet oasis,” a comprehensive kennel service, as Kalef played “The Final Countdown” on her phone.

Upon landing, the 69 dogs were taken straight to the oasis to rest overnight before moving to their new homes across the country.

Abu-Ghazalah, now residing in Wilmington, N.C., expressed his anticipation for the dogs to settle into their new homes. He felt a sense of relief knowing their journey began at the ARK.

John J. Cuticelli Jr., the founder of the ARK, and Elizabeth A. Schuette, its CEO, worked closely with Cornell University’s esteemed veterinary program and animal scientist Temple Grandin to design this state-of-the-art facility.

The ARK boasts numerous kennels, three horse barns, and a veterinary clinic. It has special rooms for bird quarantines and can even accommodate a penguin with its ability to create icy environments. Essentially, the ARK is prepared for any scenario.

Its operations mainly focus on two areas: equine import and export, handling about 5,000 horses annually, and small animal care. While many pets travel with their owners, rescue missions form a significant part of the small animal segment.

Collaborating with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ARK ensures safe animal transport. The diverse protocols and safety standards from these agencies sometimes present challenging decisions for the staff.

One such instance involved venomous reptiles intended for air transport, which the ARK deemed unsafe. After some deliberation, alternative ground transportation was arranged for these animals.

The ARK’s team is often called upon to manage crises, like the time they secured a loose box of bees on the tarmac, showcasing their problem-solving skills.

These incidents underscore the facility’s commitment to handling any situation, providing peace of mind to customers, brokers, and agencies alike. Schuette emphasized their dedication to doing things right, reflecting the ARK’s reputation for excellence in animal care.