VANCOUVER -- A charter flight taking off from Vancouver International Airport Thursday evening will only be carrying four-legged passengers.

Chloe and Ella are among the 69 dogs and cats leaving YVR to Melbourne, Australia, the only city in that country with a quarantine facility for pets.

“It’s been a long time because we booked a flight for April the 29th, and all of that had to be cancelled,” said Donni Saunders, who’s been patiently waiting to reunite with her husband in Perth. “We've had to get the girls on the flight first because I couldn't leave them with anyone. And now that we've done that, then I can get on with my journey.”

The clock was ticking.

Saunders received permits to let her Jack Russell terriers fly last December, and it was set to expire next month.

“This has been a long hard haul for a lot of people because we've had to be here while our partners or families are on the other side of the world,” she said.

Worldwide Animal Travel organized the chartered flight with Air Canada to ensure dozens of pets will get reunited with their families in Australia.

“There's a lot of pet owners that are already there. The animals were scheduled to go back in March – then COVID hit,” said Bruno Mansueto, founder of the company.

Mansueto said when that happened, Australia suspended international travel, and the animals were stuck in Canada.

He said Australia was already one of the strictest countries when it comes to animal air travel, and the pandemic created a major backlog with roughly 200 animals still waiting for a flight.

Thursday’s charter flight was a major endeavour. All the pets had to have import permits and pass blood tests.

There were originally supposed to be 80 pets on the chartered flight, but 11 of them did not pass the blood work and were not allowed on the flight, highlighting how stringent the rules are.

“It wasn't just simply getting a plane and putting animals in a plane. We had to get approval from Australia to accept these animals, we had to work closely with Air Canada and we had to work closely with pet owners,” Mansueto said.

But he said Australia did relax on the pet’s quarantine rule, dropping it down from 30 days to 10.

As for Saunders, she will have to quarantine for two weeks once she arrives in Sydney and then another two weeks once she reaches Perth.

After six cancelled flights, she hopes there will be no more changes to her scheduled flight next week.

“I’ll feel better when I’m on the plane,” she said.

And if all goes according to plan, she will be reunited with her husband, Chloe and Ella before Christmas.