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Pilots N Paws

Pilot Brings Puppy to NM for Care

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by:Helen Sung, Pawnation   

Raine, an injured 3-month-old basset hound-beagle puppy is the latest dog helped by Pilots N Paws, a program that connects pilots with animal-rescue workers to fly dogs, cats and other critters from shelters to new homes or other rescue groups over long distances.

“She was brought into a shelter in Oklahoma,” says Chris Dowd, founder of All Ears Basset Sanctuary in New Mexico, referring to Raine. “She had been hit by a car and had a dislocated hip and soft-tissue injuries.” The Oklahoma shelter couldn’t afford the cost of medical treatment, so the dog was going to be euthanized.

Dowd learned of the Raine’s fate and asked the shelter if she could bring the puppy to live at her sanctuary. The shelter agreed. All Dowd had to do was get the puppy from the shelter in Oklahoma to her sanctuary in New Mexico. That’s when she tapped the Pilots N Paws network. “I put out a plea to all the pilots in the area, and Mark Reyner offered to fly to Oklahoma to pick up the puppy and bring her to New Mexico,” Dowd tells Paw Nation.

Just over a week ago, the injured puppy arrived in New Mexico on Reyner’s airplane and was taken to an animal hospital in Santa Fe for treatment, reports KOAT News.

“I have used Pilots N Paws half a dozen times to transport animals, and I think they’re fabulous,” says Dowd.

Founded in February 2008, the idea for Pilots N Paws was born when Deborah Boies, a Doberman Pinscher rescue advocate, sent an email asking friends if anyone would be traveling and could help drive a Florida shelter dog to her home in South Carolina. Friend and pilot Jon Wehrenberg, based in Knoxville, Tenn. offered to fly down to Florida and bring the dog back on his six-seat, single-engine plane.

“I said, ‘excuse me?'” Boies recalls. “How extremely generous, but who does that — fly a dog on a plane?”

“Most people who aren’t involved in aviation think it’s a big deal, but it’s nothing special,” Wehrenberg tells Paw Nation. “It’s just another way to travel. There’s a lot of general aviation pilots looking for a reason to fly.”

Boies and Wehrenberg launched the Pilots N Paws website because of the tremendous need for it. “I found out that hundreds and thousands of dogs need transport,” says Wehrenberg. “It’s usually accomplished through ground transportation through relays from point A to point B, and there might be eight or 10 legs in a single trip. That’s something we can do in our planes in a couple of hours.”

To eliminate bureaucracy, Pilots N Paws is organized as an Internet bulletin board. “We created it as a forum website for animal rescue workers to connect directly with pilots,” explains Boies. “We have no scheduled flights. We really couldn’t exist without the volunteers who take it upon themselves to work together.” The site currently has about 6,000 registered users, of which some 1,512 are pilots. “I can’t say enough about the pilots,” says Boies. “But we do need more. Our goal is to get 10,000 pilots registered with us.”

Wehrenberg has been flying three to four times per month and estimates that he has transported about 500 dogs thus far. “To me, it’s just neat to fill the plane with puppies and small and big dogs and take them somewhere and know those 10 or 15 on board aren’t going to be euthanized,” Wehrenberg says.

By law, pilots are not allowed to accept any compensation whatsoever — even a donation for fuel cost — so every pilot is paying out of his or her own pocket to undertake these flights, says Wehrenberg. While Pilots N Paws is a non-profit organization, they’ve recently garnered the support of Subaru and Petmate. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also deemed the animal transport flights to be “humanitarian flights,” says Boies.

The pilots transport not just dogs and cats, but lizards, snakes, pot-bellied pigs and rabbits and, according to Wehrenberg, the passengers do fine. “The animals tend to be a little nervous, but once we get them in the plane and the engine starts, they quiet down and almost always fall asleep,” he says.

Raine, the basset hound-beagle puppy, did just great during the flight from Oklahoma to New Mexico, says Reyner. “It was my eighth trip for Pilots N Paws,” Reyner tells Paw Nation. “I’ll keep doing these [flights] as long as I can. It’s something that brings me pleasure and is helpful. ”

“Raine is a sweet little girl,” says Dowd. “Even with her dislocated hip, she was still trying to play with the other dogs and cuddle in my lap.” Recovering from surgery, Raine will go to a foster home that will care for her during her rehabilitation. “After that, we’ll find her a wonderful home,” says Dowd.