DALLAS – Young animals, puppies and kittens make us most emotional. It can be hard to walk past these furry friends without saying an “Aw, how cute.” Yet, sadly, approximately 6.3 million pets enter animal shelters in the United States each year.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 36% of them must be euthanized due to overcrowding. The idea that one of these adorable animals could be euthanized is heartbreaking.
In February 2008, animal lover Debi Boies and pilot Jon Wehrenberg found a way to help more animals live when they successfully transported a rescued Doberman from Florida to South Carolina. This flight was special. Not only did this give the dog another chance at life, but it also led to the creation of Pilots N Paws.
Pilots N Paws is an organization dedicated to saving animals by flying them across the United States to kill-free shelters or forever new homes. These rescues, made possible by thousands of volunteer general aviation pilots, resemble a well-choreographed ballet involving multiple planes, pilots and helpers.
Since that first flight in February 2008, approximately 6,000 pilots have transported more than 200,000 animals. Through the Pilots N Paws chat platform, volunteers who rescue, shelter and adopt animals can connect with pilots and aircraft owners who donate their time and equipment to transport animals to where they need to be. need.
A typical Pilots N Paws trip begins with a transportation request posted on the online forum. Pilots will respond if they can complete all or part of the routes. Coordinating flight details via forum, email or text is left to rescuers and pilots.
Animal and pilot meet at the designated airport on the agreed day and time, and the flight to a brighter future begins. Upon reaching the final destination, the receiver encounters the flight and collects the lucky animal. Many pilots bond with their furry passengers and often stay in touch with their new families after the trip.
“Whenever I have a little free time, I check the board to see if there are any flights I can help out on,” says Pilot N Paws volunteer pilot Matthew May. Sometimes these animals make several flights a day, especially when traveling across the country. Although a pilot may not be able to complete an entire trip, they may be able to work one leg and then another pilot takes over. When missions cannot be completed in a single day due to time, weather, or mechanical issues, foster families take animals in overnight. Depending on the circumstances, they will continue their journey the next day with the same Drivers or new ones.
Sometimes a pilot can become so attached to an animal that they may not want to complete the intended mission. This was the case with Corbin Geiser. While participating in a multi-day trip, Geiser agreed to house a black Labrador overnight and transport him the next day. After the initial introduction, the pilot knew he wasn’t taking this pup anywhere and adopted him instead.
Geiser quickly canceled the next day’s flight, contacted the future shelter about the change in plans, and began the adoption process. Amelia, aptly named Amelia Earhart, has been a beloved member of the Geiser family ever since. “Amelia often flew with me. She always hangs out at the shed with me when we’re not hiking or kayaking,” says Geiser. “If it hadn’t been for Pilots N Paws, I would have missed a great companion and tons of memories.”
Although it takes many volunteers to operate Pilots N Paws, Airmen play a key role in volunteering their planes and time to work for the flights. High fuel costs are a significant personal expense, not to mention maintenance and general operation. However, the pilots consider these costs to be worth it and say that the hardest part is not bringing all the animals home with them!
Volunteer pilot Matthew May shared some thoughts on his experience with Pilots N Paws.
How did you get involved in Pilots N Paws?
I saw a social media post about a completed trip and went to the website to find out more about the organization. Seeing the many photos of animals being airlifted to new homes caught my attention. I signed up as a volunteer, thinking I would make a trip or two. After the first one I was hooked and now try to help as much as possible.
What is the longest transport flight you have been on?
I worked on one leg of a cross country haul from Florida to Colorado. The dog had a total program of four flights over two days. I picked it up in Dallas, took it to Amarillo, and another pilot picked it up from there. It is not uncommon for multiple pilots to participate in multi-leg trips. The animals are generally well behaved and often look out the window or take a nap. They are fantastic passengers!
What is your most memorable flight?
Honestly, every flight is memorable because every animal is memorable on its own. It’s like they know something good is going on. There was a dog that had cancer in his paw. The foster shelter lacked the resources to provide the advanced medical care needed. I took the pup to another animal shelter in another state, where he received treatment. A new family then adopted the dog, and I was happy to have contributed to a good result.
Thanks to Corbin Geiser, Matthew May and the thousands of other volunteers who make Pilots N Paws a success. To learn more about this valuable organization, please visit pilotsnpaws.org.
This story is featured in the August 2022 issue of Airlines companies Review, available now.
Article written by Elise S. May. Featured Image: Paws N Pilots