A little fluffy white dog that has spent more than a year away from New Zealand remembered his way to the front door of his Auckland house when he finally returned home today.
Maltese cross Groot is one of dozens of beloved pets that were reunited with their owners today after arriving on board a "Noah's Ark" charter flight from Canada 10 days ago.
Forty-two pets travelled on the 14-hour Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Auckland last month and were released from quarantine this afternoon.
They were being kept at an animal quarantine facility in rural South Auckland for the past 10 days.
But finally this afternoon three dozen families arrived at the pet lodge to smother their cats and dogs in cuddles for the first time in months before taking them to their new homes across New Zealand.
Owners and their pets had been separated for up to a year because of Covid flight disruptions, and some feared they might never see their pets again.
Vish Mendiratta and Garima Joshi were celebrating the arrival of their "baby" Groot with friends and family this evening.
Despite being away from his Auckland home since December 2019, when the couple moved to Canada, Groot walked up to the front door and then straight to the bedroom he had slept in all his life.
"He remembers everything," Mendiratta said.
The couple returned to New Zealand in March 2020 after Covid stifled their plans for a new life in Canada - and had been waiting for Groot to get back ever since.
"[It's] so great, so emotional [to have Groot home]. We have been waiting for him for 14 months. He's like our little baby."
Jennifer Ellis and Geoffrey Nijhuis moved from Canada to New Zealand last year but were unable to bring their dog Sage with them.
"In June we had to make the tough decision to leave Sage with my parents and travel to New Zealand to start our new jobs. When flights didn't resume, we were heartbroken," said Ellis.
They were over the moon when the chance arose to book Sage on the animal charter flight.
"We can't wait to go pick her up from quarantine and to introduce her to her new home," said Ellis.
For cat owner Geri Hurring, the flight was the "light at the end of the tunnel".
"There was a lot of anxiety as to whether the flight would actually happen, given so much uncertainty in the world and some date changes. [But] after lots of hard work and planning, this is the definition of an absolute miracle. I am looking forward to picking up our babies soon," she said, referring to her cats Romeo and Miley.
Ministry for Primary Industries animal and plant health director Pete Thomson said the chartered flight proved a great outcome for the pet owners.
"MPI has been working with pet transporters and authorities to help overcome issues associated with the international travel of pets, caused by reduced international passenger flights.
"Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic we have taken a number of steps to help owners and pet transporters accommodate these disruptions while ensuring New Zealand's high biosecurity standards are being maintained," he said.
Pets are allowed into New Zealand, provided they meet MPI requirements, including a mandatory 10-day stay in an MPI-approved quarantine facility.