What some people are willing to do for an animal is really amazing. Take Jeff Bennett from the Florida Keys, for example. As of October 2008, he has saved almost 100 dogs from being euthanized by donating his time, airplane, and fuel to transport the dogs from overcrowded shelters to rescue groups and safe havens several states away that are committed to finding them adoptive homes.
“I love dogs and I love flying,” said Bennett, a pilot since 1995 and owner of a Cirrus SR22. “I’ve put the two together and do what little I can to save what little lives I can.”
This has been made possible through Pilots N Paws, an online forum established in February 2008 for animal rescue groups and pilots to coordinate animal transports around the country. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization helps make pilots and aircraft owners across the country aware of the dire need for animal transports.
About 500 pilots have volunteered so far and the organization is committed to increasing the number of pilots and airplane owners involved in Pilots N Paws so that no request for transport goes unanswered, according to Jon Wehrenberg, co-founder of Pilots N Paws.
“It doesn’t take much of an excuse for a pilot to go fly,” said Bennett. “So why not just take a four-legged friend with you?”
About 4 million animals or more are euthanized annually, but this would not be the case if there were more and better spay and neuter programs. This includes laws regarding owners’ responsibility for their animals. Because the problem is primarily regional, a lot of these animals could find permanent “forever” homes if they could be transported from high-kill regions to areas with homes available.
“And general aviation could use the support, too. So, is there a need for this? Yes, and we wanted to give volunteers a place to connect and coordinate missions,” said Deborah Boies, co-founder of Pilots N Paws. “I’ve dealt with the most kind-hearted people. It’s the best of humanity coming together, working together to safely transport the dogs. Flying is the best way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.”
One of Bennett’s recent trips involved a Doberman pinscher that belonged to a family from New England who wanted to live on a boat. The dog didn’t like being around water, so the family decided to just turn it in to the shelter. Through Pilots N Paws, Bennett was able to transport the dog to a new home within two weeks.
“We have the ability to move the dogs to areas where they have a much better chance of being adopted, sometimes based on what people are looking for such as breed and temperament,” he said. “There are so many programs at the federal and state levels for people who need assistance. Dogs have nothing except shelters, which are always on the verge of bankruptcy, and are overloaded and underfunded.”
Nick O’Connell of Williamsburg, Virginia, also is an animal lover and figures he has to fly a certain number of hours to stay current anyway.
“I can only imagine what some of these animals have gone through,” said O’Connell, a pilot since 1991 and owner of a Piper Cherokee 180. “I’m delighted to have saved around 23 dogs so far. It’s very rewarding.”
What can you do? Make the first step by visiting the Let’s Go Flying Web site—and share it with a friend or two. Visit the Pilots n’ Paws Web site for more information about how to join the crusade to rescue shelter pets and get them to safety and adoptive homes.