Creve Coeur pilot gives pets second chances through Pilots N Paws
Metro St. Louis Suburban Journals
December 19, 2012 12:15 am • Sarah Baraba firstname.lastname@example.org
About once a month Robert Blumenshine’s vintage Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft goes to the dogs.
That’s when the 69-year-old pilot from Creve Coeur takes to the sky to transport pooches who were headed to the gas chamber, to a permanent home.
Blumenshine volunteers for Pilots N Paws, a national organization that flies pets on the kill-list at shelters to owners across the country.
“Almost all shelters are overstocked and understaffed,” Blumenshine said. “When a dog goes to a shelter that has a kill policy, some state it and some don’t, but there’s a time limit for how long they can stay.”
Blumenshine has flown for Pilots N Paws for at least five years. The owner of a Labradoodle, a Shar Pei and a Boxer, he said he’s shocked at the quality and breeds of animals he’s flown to safety.
“I carried a young female Doberman that was the most beautiful dog you’ve ever seen, and I thought ‘My God, they were going to kill this dog. Are you kidding me?’ ” he said.
Blumenshine has only transported dogs, but Pilots N Paws also helps place cats and small pets such as ferrets. When the group becomes aware of an animal whose time is running out, Pilots N Paws sends out a request for pick-up to its network of 3,000 volunteer pilots.
On board, canines are fairly calm cargo, Blumenshine said.
“Once the engine gets started, they almost inevitably lay down and go to sleep. I only had one dog that was really active. When I got to the other end of my flight it had ripped the mattress inside the crate into tiny little shreds,” Blumenshine said with a chuckle.
For his and the dogs’ safety Blumenshine crates pets during flight, but there have been a few occasions where his co-pilots couldn’t resist holding a small, mild-mannered mutt on their lap.
Usually Blumenshine is only one of a handful of pilots a pet will see on its journey to a new home.
“I’ll pick the animal up in East Kansas City and fly out of there to Louisville, Ky., and arrange to meet the next pilot there,” Blumenshine said of an example mission.
“It doesn’t always work out that way to take an animal all the way through from start to finish,” he said.
The relay network ends up being beneficial to Blumenshine and other pilots that want to help out, but can’t afford the fuel to fly a pet cross-country.
“We’re kind of an amorphic organization. We figure out what the problem is and figure out a way to make it work,” he said.
Pilots N Paws flies about 12,000 rescue animals each year. More than four times that many animals arrive at St. Louis city and county shelters annually, according to the Saint Louis PetLovers Coalition, an advocacy organization of public and private animal service providers.
“We’re always on the verge of full,” said Jeane Jae, vice president of communications for the Humane Society of Missouri.
There is no time limit for how long an animal can stay at the Humane Society before getting adopted, Jae said, but that’s not the case for all shelters. Each year more than 20,000 animals in shelters in St. Louis city and county are put down due to overpopulation, according to the PetLovers Coalition.
Organization such as Pilots N Paws are helping cut down that number, said Becky Smail, program manager of St. Louis County Animal Care and Control.
“Thankfully our numbers have really increased as far as our transfers to rescue groups,” Smail said.
Smail said local rescue organizations, such as Troy, Ill.-based Partners4Pets, help alleviate overcrowding. Such groups rescue animals from shelters and place pets in foster homes until they can find permanent owners. Those groups are helping to spread the word about what kind of and how many pets are in shelters in need of homes.
“It’s a big circle. They’re actually indirectly helping us all,” Smail said. “Having that kind of cooperative effort between us really makes a huge difference in the amount of animals’ lives we’re able to save.”