Toronto

'Noah's Ark project' to reunite owners with pets left in the Cayman Islands during pandemic

Families and pet owners have chipped in to raise $140,000 to bring 94 people and 55 pets from the Cayman Islands on a private charter flight set to arrive in Toronto on Friday.

Private charter costing $140K set to bring home 55 pets and 94 people Friday

Kylie Nicholls chipped in for a private charter flight to have her dog Cora flown to Toronto from the Cayman Islands. The two were separated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Kylie Nicholls)

When Kylie Nicholls packed up her things on short notice and boarded a flight three weeks ago from the Cayman Islands to Toronto, she was missing one important thing: her dog Cora. 

"Just the experience of having to leave her and not knowing when we would see her again ... It was really heart-wrenching," she told CBC Toronto Thursday. 

"I think I cried most of the flight." 

Nicholls is one of thousands of Canadians abroad who have been brought home on repatriation flights since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many people like her were forced to leave behind personal belongings — and pets. 

"It was terrible," said Nicholls, who rented a home in the Cayman Islands with her family over the winter. 

But soon she and her furry friend will be reunited.

Cora is one of 55 lucky pets and 95 people heading home Friday on a private charter flight organized by a Canadian woman living in the Cayman Islands.

Nikole Poirier is eager to reunite families with their loved ones and pet-owners with their animals. 

"I''m calling it the Noah's Ark project," said Poirier. 

Cora is one of 55 pets set to fly to Toronto from the Cayman Islands on Friday. (Submitted by Kylie Nicholls)

Flight to cost $140K 

An animal lover herself, Poirier launched the project after learning that only some Canadians — and no pets — boarded the repatriation flight from the Cayman Islands to Toronto that brought Kylie Nicholls home. 

While some Canadians chose to board the flight, Poirier said others refused, choosing to "wait it out in paradise" with their pets instead. 

"When we found out they weren't allowing pets, then I just got really cranky with the [Canadian] Consulate," she said.

Nikole Poirier, a Canadian who lives in the Cayman Islands, says she made calls to the Canadian consulate after learning that pets weren't allowed to go home with their owners on the only repatriation flight to leave the islands since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (CBC)

So Poirier made some calls and learned that a private flight from the Cayman Islands to Toronto would cost $140,000, a price tag Poirier couldn't afford on her own. 

So she sent out a social media blast in search of pet-owners and families in the Cayman Islands eager to get themselves or their pets back home — and the response was both quick and positive. 

Soon, Poirier says the full amount was raised, and the flight was scheduled. 

The charter flight, a 787-800 Sunwing aircraft, is set to arrive at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Friday at 4:30 p.m. 

Money pooled for those who couldn't afford a seat 

The plane will have enough room for the 55 pets and 94 people, as well as additional space for all the passengers' luggage. 

And because the seats come at thousands of dollars each, Porier says some people even chipped in to pay for those who couldn't afford their own ticket home. 

"There's just so much good will happening through this flight." 

The charter flight, a 737-800 from Sunwing Airlines, is set to arrive at Pearson International Aiport at 4:40 p.m. Friday. (Submitted by Sunwing Media)

But Poirier says even with the flight, additional people remain in the Cayman Islands — a vacation hotspot — without a way of getting to Toronto. 

That's why she's hoping to organize a second charter flight in July to help those still looking for a ticket home. 

'Beyond over the moon' 

Nicholls, meanwhile, is counting down the hours until she will be reunited with her beloved Cora. 

"I am beyond over the moon and so grateful," she said. 

Kylie Nicholls says she's 'so grateful' that a flight was organized to bring Cora home. (Submitted by Kylie Nicholls)

Without Cora, Nicholls says "it's been a struggle," adding that the dog is part of the family. 

"I can't stop smiling because tomorrow is a big day when I finally get her."

With files from Ali Chiasson

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