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Pilots N Paws

Fly me away: Pilots, volunteers unite to rescue animals

Pilots N Paws has transported thousands of rescue animals, often flying them hundreds of miles from where they were found so they can find forever homes.

Wed, Jan 30 2013 at 12:03 PM
link to online story at Mother Nature Network


Photo: Pilots N Paws

Photo: Pilots N Paws

When animal rescuers found an emaciated German shepherd wandering the streets of Somerset, Ky., in December 2011, they knew the dog wouldn’t fare well in the overcrowded local shelter. Luckily, they found a German shepherd rescue group willing to care for the dog. The only problem? The group is based in Tampa, Fla. 

Animal rescuers posted the dog’s story to the Pilots N Paws website, a place where rescuers, animal foster families and volunteer pilots coordinate life-saving relocations for animals in need.

Pilot Susan Delgado of Atlanta, Ga., saw the post and volunteered to fly to Kentucky to get the malnourished dog, who was full-grown but weighed only 35 pounds. Delgado didn’t have her own plane at the time, so she flew a rental to retrieve the dog and then drove him to Tampa after he spent a few days being spoiled at her Georgia home.

“He was just a gentle giant. If you told him to sit, he’d sit. He’d clearly been someone’s pet, but maybe they’d fallen upon hard times. He was just the most loveable dog,” Delgado said.

The German shepherd ended up being adopted by the Florida woman who fostered him. Five weeks later he was a healthy 88 pounds.

Pilots N Paws, an S.C.-based nonprofit organization, is the force behind stories like this one. The idea came to animal lover Debi Boies and pilot Jon Wehrenberg in 2008 when they teamed up to rescue a Doberman pinscher from a Florida shelter. Today, the organization has a network of 3,000 pilots and 12,000 volunteers who rescue animals, organize transportation and provide foster homes to dogs, cats and other animals. Since the organization was founded, it has coordinated more than 12,000 rescue flights.

“There’s no shortage of dogs that need homes, and there are plenty of people willing to give them homes. The problem is getting the dog to the right place. That’s where we come in,” said Kathleen Quinn, Charleston SC, Pilots N Paws executive director.

Flying to forever homes

But Pilots N Paws isn’t just for shelter dogs. Volunteers have flown cats, dogs, snakes, pigs, rabbits, rats and donkeys to new homes. In 2010, the organization even worked with Navy SEALs in Afghanistan to fly an injured Steppe eagle to a New York bird sanctuary.

Still, Quinn says the organization primarily transports dogs. Most of the dogs come from overcrowded shelters where they’re likely to be euthanized, but others are simply going into retirement.


Rocky, a Belgian Malinois, was one such dog. He was employed by the U.S. Army as a land mine-detection dog in Afghanistan, but he developed glaucoma and could no longer work. Military dogs aren’t guaranteed a trip back when their service is complete, but Pilots N Paws teamed up with CDH International and Puppy Rescue Mission to transport Rocky to a new home in northern California.

And while many rescue dogs are flown to their new homes, others are taken to facilities where they can be trained as service animals

“What’s great about that is the dogs aren’t only getting a home, but someone in need is also getting a companion,” Quinn said.

But sometimes an animal doesn’t need rescuing at all; he or she just needs a temporary new home while their owner goes overseas.

“We also work with members of the military to get their pet to a friend or family member while they’re deployed. They do so much for us, and we want to do something for them in return,” Quinn said.

How it works

When an animal is in need of transport, a rescuer makes a post on the Pilots N Paws forum and gives details about where the animal is and where he needs to go. If the location falls within a volunteer pilot’s flying radius, the pilot receives an email.

Then, if the pilot can make the flight, he or she works with animal rescuers to arrange for pick-up and delivery. But not all transports are a simple direct flight.


“Pilots are often limited to 250 miles for one leg, so we need volunteers to foster animals until their next leg of the trip. It’s a sort of layover for dogs. Sometimes a volunteer will even drive a leg of the trip if need be,” Quinn said.

Delgado, who’s flown about 100 animals to their forever homes, says that 20 percent of her flights involve coordinating with another pilot.

“Many people assume that we fly the animals places we’re already going, but the majority of the time they’re flights we’re taking because of the dog or cat. It combines our love of flying with our love for animals, and it’s great to do something for someone who can never repay you,” she said.

All photos courtesy of Pilots N Paws


10 thoughts on “Fly me away: Pilots, volunteers unite to rescue animals”

  1. Marge Nelson says:

    My brother-in-law is one of the pilots who flies for Pilots N Paws. What a wonderful service this is! Many, many thanks to all who participate in this extraordinary venture.

  2. Arlene says:

    I love those Pilots N Paws…especially returning Military dogs to the US. Those dogs deserve so much more than being left alone where they did such a great service. Thank you so much, pilots!

  3. Arlene R. O'Neil says:

    Simply amazing! God Bless all involved for your wonderful, compassionate work!

  4. Jody says:

    She said the dogs can never repay you, but she needs to realize that she is praising God with these acts and will be paid in full!

  5. Sean Berry says:

    Pilots N Paws has introduced me to a number of great people, not least all the participants in this year’s Labor Day San Antonio to Thunder Bay 24-participant marathon, famous Wisconsin pilot David Tan, and all the wonderful sending and receiving families, shelters, and rescue organizations. I’m very glad Jack Shelton introduced me to you guys: it’s made a great reason to get in the airplane, and we’ve loved every trip we’ve taken, every guest we’ve shuttled, even if they were a little more standoffish (like Bruce the Bat). Thanks again, great article.

  6. Pam Ewing says:

    I love you!

  7. Kelly Davies says:

    Daily and Kelly Davies are a mother daughter pilot team that are volunteering our pilot skills for this great effort. We do not come with a plane but we do have 13,000 hours of experience flying and we are ablle to get around the US free for charge when we volunteer.
    Kelly Davies

  8. For the Love of Paws,Inc. is a 501 C3 nonprofit organization that I started about 18 months ago. We are growing fast but we also are outgrowing our foster homes. We have no shelter here and are the poorest county in the State of Tennessee. This area needs much rescue, fostering and adopting done and I also run two trips per month with about 15 to 17 animals in each load (depending on size of dogs) with cats and dogs for low cost spaying and neutering in Knoxville and Harriman. We are working hard but may need help with tranports across the country. How do we apply to get your help? Thank you so much. Sincerely, LaDawn Anderson President and Founder of For the Love of Paw, in. Here is our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/4loveofpaws

  9. Tanya says:

    There is no application process to go through to request assistance. Pilots N Paws provides a forum that gives rescues and pilots the opportunity to connect. Rescues posts requests for transport, and if a pilot can help they will respond. You will want to start by visiting http://www.pilotsnpaws.org/forum. Towards the upper right of the page, you will some icons with pilot, rescue, FAQ, Register, Login. You’ll want to register and then read the Rescue section thoroughly. That section will talk about a lot of things you need to know about how to request help, what to expect, etc. Thank you for helping the animals in your area, and I hope you can find some transport assistance.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I’m a foster mom in South Florida. THANK YOU to these amazing pilots for saving so many animals.

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