Great Meadow in The Plains is buzzing with excitement above and beyond the Virginia Gold Cup and International Gold Cup Races, Twilight Polo, Fourth of July, Twilight Jumpers, Scottish Games, rocketry, cross-country track meets and other outdoorsy happenings that attract more than 200,000 people every year.

There’s the second Great Meadow International FEI Nations Cup of Eventing™, presented by Adequan, July 7 – 9. Now, however, there’s the possibility of Great Meadow being selected to host a 4-star 3-day event – it would be the second in the U.S., after Rolex Kentucky, and only the seventh 4-star in the world.

Great Meadow’s application to host the new 4-star is being reviewed by the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), along with four others: Fair Hill (Fair Hill, MD), Morven Park (Leesburg, VA), Ocala Jockey Club (Ocala, FL), and Tryon International Equestrian Center (Tryon, NC). A decision from the USEF is expected sometime in January, pending approval by the International Equestrian Sport Federation (FEI).

On top of all this, there’s the possibility of a state-of-the-art all-animal reception and quarantine facility at Dulles International Airport. This project has the full support of Great Meadow, because it would revolutionize air transport in the mid-Atlantic region for performance and sport horses, breeding stock and racehorses. Right now, horses fly into JFK, Miami, and Los Angeles, only to endure long road trips to their ultimate destination. Now, however, there’s a better, more humane approach to air transport of all animals.

“About a year ago, after Great Meadow International had been approved by the FEI to hold the first-ever Nations Cup of Eventing™ outside Europe, I knew we needed to accommodate horses from other parts of the world,” recalled Rob Banner, Great Meadow Foundation president. “I went to Dulles and asked if they could help me make an equine quarantine facility. They said no, but they told me that, if I could find an owner-operator, they would be happy to lease the land and serve as landlord.

“Then I read that John Cuticelli and his wife Elizabeth were bringing a $58-million animal quarantine center to JFK International Airport in Queens, New York,” added Banner. “They’re commercial real estate experts and air cargo experts. They were determined to improve animal air transport and traveled around the world, studying animal quarantine facilities in a number of countries. They took what they learned and raised the bar, working in concert with Cornell Veterinary, whose standard operating procedures were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What they’re doing will transform horse transport.”

This exciting new era in the air transport of animals launches in 2017 when The ARK at JFK opens for business. It will be the world’s first privately owned facility, catering to the transport needs of all animals — horses, pets, birds, livestock —and USDA-approved for pre- and post- import/export quarantine. The amenities are first class with full services for all animals available 24-7 with attending vets and experienced animal handlers. The concept is designed to reduce the stress of travel for the animals wherever they’re going.

“I approached Cuticelli and said ‘You’re in at JFK – I can get you into Dulles – most horse people here in the mid-Atlantic don’t really want their horses to end up in Queens,’ ” said Banner. “The model he created for The ARK at JFK is pretty much bullet proof and would be the best scenario for horses, for all animals, coming to Virginia and nearby states or shipping to foreign destinations. Cuticelli said, ‘You’re absolutely right. I want to do it.’ We met with MWAA (Metropolitan Washington Airports Advisory) and the Washington Airports Task Force. They interviewed Cuticelli and his wife and their team. The meeting went extremely well.”

The MWAA and Task Force commissioned HR&A Advisors, Inc. to conduct a study, co-sponsored by Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, to examine the economic feasibility of The ARK concept at Dulles. HR&A is in the process of interviewing industry experts and reviewing the economic foundation of the JFK model.

Banner said: “Cuticelli ran a business buying sick companies, fixing them and selling them back into the market. He rebuilt buildings in Manhattan. He knows how to run a business very well. I think the relationship between Dulles and The ARK will be safe and secure.”

It all started at JFK. Cuticelli recognized opportunity when the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey was looking for someone to build a small animal care center on the airport grounds. He also established an important connection with Cornell University Veterinary College.

“When I started looking at the types of animals that were transported by air, it was a lot more than dogs and cats — horses being the second largest segment,” said Cuticelli. “I was a speaker at Cornell for the graduating class series and met their top veterinarians and the head of the vet school. I began discussing this with them and gaining a certain amount of baseline knowledge.

“Elizabeth and I decided to examine facilities throughout the world, because it appeared that the U.S. was far behind other countries,” he continued. “As we went around different parts of Europe, Asia, and Australia, we found that nobody had a complete unified discipline, that everybody did one piece extremely well, but nobody did everything — equine, companion animals, bovine, avian, and so forth. We studied the best part of each of the disciplines we examined and incorporated them into what we’re building at JFK.”

What they designed goes far beyond the physical facility. The Cuticellis worked closely with Cornell to understand animal behavior, needs, and desires. They retained Temple Grandin to oversee the quarantine center’s bovine facility. The ARK has a mission: to promote the safe and humane transportation of animals, pre- and post-flight, with the underlying principle that the humane obligation to these animals is the best care — before they take off and as soon as they land, when stress and the potential for trauma are greatest.

“It’s been four years,” said Cuticelli. “What started out as a curiosity became a science and went from a science to a passion. What we learned is that when the animal’s in the airplane, there’s nothing you can do for it. The key is how the animal is treated pre- and post-flight. Is it properly hydrated? Properly relieved?  Is it prepared for the flight? Is the kennel the right size for the dog or cat? Has the stall been prepared properly for the horse? Has the horse been walked properly in the 5 to 12 hours that it rests before the flight?”

With proper care for each species at the heart of The ARK concept, it’s a win-win situation for horses, which are quite sensitive and especially vulnerable in transit. Dr. Linda Mittel of Cornell is working closely with The ARK at JFK for the next six months to make sure that bio-security is maintained. Dr. Mittel and her team of Cornell veterinarians also wrote all the standard operating procedures for the quarantine facility, approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The ARK at JFK model will apply to the Dulles facility. However, the proposed Dulles reception center will potentially occupy 25 acres, compared to 14 at JFK.

Dulles International Airport is convenient to numerous farms, competitions and venues that cater to equestrian sport and activities. It’s a lot closer than JFK and Miami International, another equine air hub. Virginia’s biggest horse populations are located in Fauquier and Loudoun, but a recent study cited statewide annual gross income at about $243-million. That’s a lot of bucks boosting the economy via taxes, jobs, local equine-related services and businesses.

The ARK concept will bring a whole new dynamic to air transport of all animals, but its impact on the horse industry globally will be monumental. Once approved, The ARK at IAD, as it may be called, will take about 14 months to complete.

As Cuticelli put it: “What we’re trying to say to all animal shippers is: Ship to the location that has the best care facility for the animal; don’t ship because it’s the most convenient route. The ARK at JFK shows the world exactly what components are necessary to create a state-of-the-art facility — from the needs of each animal to how many pets fly to what the ambient temperature is outside the building versus inside the building to the anti-microbial membraning in all the horse stalls so that transfer of disease is non-existent.”

Whether or not you have animals, but especially if you do, please consider what The ARK concept at Dulles will mean to horses, dogs and cats, to livestock, to animal-centric businesses. It’s huge and it’s exciting.

“Our goal is to really raise the bar,” said Banner. “If we can bring a CCI 4-star to Great Meadow and equine reception and quarantine to Dulles, the combination will be a significant game-changer for the entire region.”

No wonder Great Meadow is buzzing.

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