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Pilots N Paws

Pilots N Paws takes rescuing animals to new heights

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By Lori Kilchermann
lori.kilchermann@ sentinel-standard.com


Many pilots volunteer for rescue missions because of their love of animals — and flying.

Many pilots volunteer for rescue missions because of their love of animals — and flying.

MICHIGAN   –Thousands of dogs end up in Michigan animal shelters each year, and those numbers are on the rise in many areas. The home foreclosure crisis has contributed to escalating numbers of abandoned animals. When families are displaced to new living conditions, those arrangements may not be pet-friendly. For some struggling families, the costs associated with caring for pets is simply too great of a burden.Michigan has an abundance of dog rescue groups, however, transportation can be a major barrier for families ready to step in and offer forever or foster homes to displaced animals. That’s where organizations such as Pilots N Paws step in to change — and save — lives.”The premise of Pilots N Paws is if you’re already going to be flying, why not really make it worthwhile and rescue an animal while you’re doing it,” said Kathleen Quinn, Charleston, SC , executive director of Pilots N Paws.The group’s Website features an interactive, nationwide forum board detailing what rescue animals need to go where and when. When a rescue animal in one location has a waiting home in another, rescue groups can log on to the forum board and request help with transportation. A network of volunteer pilots regularly peruse the board, and can sign-up to transport the waiting animals.”If you’re going to a business trip somewhere, you can look at the forum board and see if any animals need to go that way, “Quinn said. “It kind of gives more meaning to being up in the air, knowing that you’re saving a life. A lot of our pilots now look at the forum board and plan a flight based on where animals need to go. It really becomes such a passion and labor of love for them.”How it works

The organization was launched in 2008 and volunteer pilots fly an average of 12,000 rescue missions each year. In addition to U.S. flights, the group expanded to Canada in June. Pilots N Paws has more than 3,000 volunteer pilots who transport rescue animals free of charge.

“We have a lot of active pilots in Michigan,” Quinn said.

Most of the pilots cover about 250 miles in a flight, and pilots often partner up for longer transports. Compared to ground transports, which often involve several different people and vehicles, the Pilots N Paws flights are often less stressful for the animals because they are typically finished in one vehicle.

“They are not changing vehicles so often,” Quinn said. “They are already coming from stressful situations being in shelters. Whenever you can minimize the number of new people they have to get used to during the course of the transport, it’s usually less stressful for them.”

Once airborne, the animals often sleep through the ride, she said.

“Most of the dogs or cats fall asleep during the plane ride,” Quinn said. “It’s very relaxing for them. It’s almost like they know they are going to a better place.”

The most commonly transported rescue animals are dogs, but the group also transports a variety of other rescue animals, including cats, rats, donkeys, guinea pigs, rabbits and pot-bellied pigs.

Pilots needed

An active roster of volunteer pilots helps the group keep pace with the needs of animal rescue groups, and more pilots are welcome and needed.

“The more pilots we have, the more animals we can save each year,” Quinn said.

Pilot sign-up information is available on the group’s Website, pilotsnpaws.org. One of the variables impacting rescue flights is weather, especially with the small aircraft typically used for the flights.

“There are different ratings for pilots, so not all of them have ratings to fly in certain weather,” Quinn said.

Flexibility is needed on both sides of the rescue, she added. In addition to rescue animals, the group will occasionally transport service dogs and dogs for military personnel.

“We’ve flown dogs for the military, at times,” Quinn said. “If they are called to serve, then we will fly the dog to stay with a family member or friend while they are overseas serving our country.”

The need for transport is increasing each year, which means the need for pilots in also growing.

“People in the rescue community are still learning about Pilots N Paws each day,” Quinn said. “It’s good to spread the word to different rescue groups so that they know we are providing free transport for animals and that our service exists.”

Getting on board

Pilots can choose which animals to haul based on the size of their aircraft, including weight and space limitations. Some pilots even remove the back seats of their planes to accommodate crates.

“They let us know what size will fit in their planes, and we send them out crates,” Quinn said.

All animals transported by Pilots N Paws also need health certificates in order to be transported. When groups request a transport, they list information about the animal, including its size, special needs and temperament. In addition to pilots, Pilots N Paws also welcomes other volunteers.

“They can sign up to foster animals during layovers between flights,” Quinn said. “Even if you don’t have a pilot’s license, you can still help.”

Donations are also needed to maintain the forum board and Website’s domain name. Everything Pilots N Paws is able to accomplish is thanks to donations, grants and volunteers, Quinn said.

For Quinn, her work has personal fulfillment.

“It’s just amazing work and you meet amazing people and you know that hundreds of lives are being saved each month,” she said.
What’s next

The organization is still looking to grow, especially bringing more pilots on board. In addition to ongoing pilot recruiting, Pilots N Paws is also hoping to incorporate programs to educate the public about animal welfare.

“Our end goal would not to even be needed anymore, for the problem of homeless animals not to exist because so many are euthanized each year — about 4 million,” Quinn said.

Integrating programs into schools to educate people about spaying, neutering and proper care of animals is key to alleviating the issue, she added.

To learn more about Pilots N Paws, visit pilotsnpaws.org.