Pilots N Paws' lofty goal: Save 5,000 unwanted pets

Discussion in 'Pet related News stories' started by Pippin, Aug 31, 2009.

  1. Pippin

    Pippin Member

    Jun 30, 2009
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    The skies next month will be filled with thousands of dogs, cats and other creatures escaping death row through the kindness of strangers.

    From Sept. 12 to Sept. 20, small-plane pilots — who for 18 months have been volunteering their planes, fuel and time to fly pets from high-kill shelters to areas where there's space and demand for them — are aiming to fly 5,000 animals.

    "It's an ambitious goal," says Debi Boies, co-founder of Pilots N Paws (PNP), a non-profit message board that allows animal shelters and pet rescue groups to post their transport needs so general-aviation pilots willing to fly an animal can provide the means. "But we're hopeful of achieving it as long as we don't run into weather problems."

    In the 18 months since PNP was born, 604 pilots have signed up, and more than 1,000 animals have been flown. Retired businessman and PNP co-founder Jon Wehrenberg rallied pilot interest after learning that nearly 6 million animals are euthanized in shelters every year, most of them because they are in an area of rampant pet overpopulation. He has flown 254 dogs so far, and he's transporting nine today, from Georgia and South Carolina to Illinois. Another pilot has flown more than 100 dogs, including 13 beagles this month, Boies says.

    A menagerie of dogs, cats, snakes, pig

    Border collies, Dobermans, greyhounds, Shih Tzus and scores of other breeds and mixed breeds; seniors and puppies; plus a few cats, rabbits, a pot-bellied pig and even some reptiles — all have been transported without incident, Boies says. There have been some weather delays, pilots have sometimes had to spend a night with an animal or two before continuing, and in some bad-weather instances a pilot has landed the plane and finished the trip on the ground. But by all reports, the animals are generally calm and the transfers are made with military precision.

    This month, Florida pilot Jim Matthews was flying four dogs, including a pregnant schnauzer that went into labor. The dog "looked up at me … knowing this was her very last chance. I cried for the first time in years," he later told Boies in an e-mail she posted on the PNP website. He radioed ahead that he had an emergency, the dog was then raced to a veterinarian, and she gave birth to 10 puppies. Pilot and pups are all doing well.

    For the September Pilots N Paws 5000 event, some pilots will link up with others to create a relay route; others will do long trips on their own with multiple refueling stops.

    Nick O'Connell, a contractor in Williamsburg, Va., has blocked off the time to fly homeless-animal missions of mercy. "I've told my clients and my wife I just won't be around that week," he says. He has flown about 25 dogs since December, and he hopes to fly at least that many during PNP 5000.

    Transferring animals from overpopulated areas — mostly in the South — to mostly Northern states, where pet sterilization has long been practiced, is not new. Volunteer rescuers ply highways every weekend, saving animals two or three or nine at a time. But the journey is long, it takes scores of people to drive part of the way and link up with others in parking lots, and it's stressful for the animals as well as expensive for the rescuers.

    The flights take a fraction of the time, and the only money spent comes out of the pilots' pockets. "People still find it amazing that these pilots do this for no charge," Boies says.

    'Working every avenue' of rescue

    PNP hopes the September event will increase awareness and prompt even more rescuers and pilots to sign on.

    "We're working every avenue we can think of to make sure that, in addition to the usual number of animals saved through our flights every week, we get thousands more to new homes in September," O'Connell says.

    Every pilot finds these flights "gratifying," he says. They share stories online about dogs with trusting eyes, climbing into the crates and quickly settling down, as if they know this is their shot at a new beginning.

    And yet every pilot also knows "you're just a drop" in a situation that requires an ocean of help. Pilots photograph the animals they fly, remember them by name and take comfort that five or 15 were saved this week. "We're so happy to help," O'Connell says.

    But in the end, "my dream is that this could be the last 5,000 we ever have to do."



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