It has been a real education transporting pups and with each passing week I learn more and more. Our list of active pilots has grown to impressive numbers and Pilotsnpaws is making a large impact on how animals are transported and the ability of rescues to pull animals to safety.
For all pilots starting out doing rescues perhaps I can share things I have learned doing the transport of more than 200 animals. First and foremost all pilots doing transports must recognize they, and they alone have to create their own rules. We all fly different planes, equipped differently, with different ranges and limitations. As pilots we have different skill and experience levels. Further, as pilots we have different rules for transports. As to us as pilots and our planes it is our responsibility to make it clear to the rescues we deal with what limitations we have regarding weather, the number and size of crates or animals out planes will hold, what our distance or endurance limitations are, and what type of airports we choose to use. All of this may vary from transport to transport so as a pilot, it is up to us to let rescues know that we need airports with instrument approaches, or we only want untowered airports, or we want to go where fuel is cheapest. I can see how rescues get confused when this week I pick the big airport with expensive fuel because I need the instrument approaches the big airport offers, and then next week pick the small airport with no approaches because it is sunny and I want the cheap fuel. We have to communicate why we are making certain decisions and choices.
But we also need to develop our own rules about the animals we carry and how we carry them. We have to be aware there are rules in almost every state regulating the importation of animals. As pilots we are the ones importing the animals so if we accept that responsibility it is not only OK, but appropriate to require a vet's certificate of the animals health and proof of the various shots an animal may be required to have. The receiving rescues know their state's requirements and they can help with this. Do not be shy about setting your own rules. Do not be shy about explaining your requirements up front. This is important and it can affect scheduling.
In addition to rules relating to the paperwork for animals being transported I find I have developed rules regarding the temperment of the animals I carry and how they are to be carried. For example I will no longer transport an animal that I know to be agressive or attempts to bite anyone. I did once and unfortunately it bit the receiving rescue. Fortunately she did not have broken skin and she was willing to work with the animal. I also will not use a soft sided crate anymore despite their huge appeal to me. They are very large and can be set up in the cabin of the plane, but the downside is I had two destroyed by dogs that wanted to act as co-pilot (not good) and I do not want to ever be again hand flying an instrument approach while trying to convince a dog that is now unrestrained and uncrated to sit down in the back.
Because we as pilots can never possibly save or transport every animal I have also developed some practices regarding the transports I do. It is very expensive to fly. We pilots and plane owners certainly know that. So to get the greatest impact not only for the dollar spent, but in the transport of the greatest number of animals possible I am very careful about my transports. The rescues I fly most often for know I want my plane filled. I started like most pilots do flying a single animal. But when I considered the time and cost associated with flying one animal it did not make sense in the view of the magnitude of the problem relating to the number of animals euthanized each year. So I started seeking ways to transport multiple animals at a time.
It is obvious to say that I just asked my rescues to fill my plane. They were certainly willing. And we worked together to insure it got filled to capacity. Capacity in my plane is two large crates carrying a single Dobie in each, or a combination of large and smaller crates carrying a mix of sizes, or all smaller crates (8 is my capacity so far) carrying a mix of smaller animals. So my typical load is somewhere between 2 big dogs or as many as 15 smaller ones. Last weekend on Saturday I had two Dobies, and on Sunday I had 3 lab mixes, and 6 Dobie mix puppies. Thats a segue into the second part of filling my plane. Once I am willing to do a transport and it is scheduled, if I am not at capacity (for example I only have 5 small pups on the schedule) I will scour the needed transports to find more animals I can get to join the transport.
It sometimes gets confusing having multiple sending rescues or shelters, going to multiple receiving rescues or shelters, sometimes all in different cities, but once as pilots we can get stuff like that sorted out it tends to work out well. Rescues do not know or understand that as long as we are going along a specific route, doing a little side trip off the route a few miles has little impact on our flight times. It is up to us as pilots to pull these multiple city, sending and receiving people together as part of a single transport. Pilots, take control of how many animals you fly, and if necessary seek other transports to add to the load. Rescues are not intimate with your plane's carrying capacity and whether adding a stop or two is possible, but you are, so you as a pilot have to do the coordination of all parties involved.
Because I do a lot of flights serving multiple parties and sometimes folks I have never dealt with, I insist that contact phones be left on during the entire transport so if I need to reach anyone for any reason I will speak to a person and not voice mail. I make it a habit to call the receiving party to confirm my arrival time and get assurance the plane will be met by someone before I start my engine. I think all pilots and rescues need to do that routinely. With only a few exceptions (those being rescues I have flown for at least once a month and that I trust) all transports require me to speak to a real live person.
I am comfortable flying in weather, but that does not mean I will tug on Superman's Cape or challenge Mother Nature. If I cannot see my way around icing I will not hesitate to reschedule for example. As pilots we have an obligation to be honest with the rescues right up front about our willingness or hesitance to tackle certain weather. We as pilots need to put safety first and foremost and it is OK to reschedule even if the problem is as simple as winds on a beautiful sunny day. Nobody but the pilot knows the limitations. And nobody but the pilot should be scheduling the flight.
I dislike rules and regulations. But they have a time and place. We all set out own personal limits on so many things it just makes sense to do so when we do animal transports. Do I break my own rules sometimes? Yes. But most of the time I follow my own rules. I try to be consistent, but every now and then I will fly a single animal because of circumstances. I have flown animals without a shred of paperwork because the alternative was death and the rescues at each end had assigned responsibility for vetting the animals and I knew the rescues well enough to know those emergency rescues were going to be vetted and neutered and get their shots. But for the most part I follow my rules which are still a work in process.
I would appreciate others sharing their rules and limitations. Those may prove helpful to other pilots.