“On any given day – between our two shelters in town – we have 15,000 dogs available for adoption,” said the ground volunteer I was taking dogs from in Anderson, South Carolina. We were transporting just 13 of the 15,000 in Anderson – hoping and praying we could somehow make a difference and save them from the gas-chamber euthanasia so many of their fellow shelter mates would soon face.
I was volunteering alongside my pilot dad and animal-loving mom in conjunction with organizations like Animal Rescue Flights (ARF) and Pilots N’ Paws (PNP). We were tasked with transporting animals from shelters that had an overabundance of animals to “forever homes” and shelters in other areas of the country where the animals have a better chance of being adopted.
According to the ASPCA, 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats are placed into animal shelters every year in the United States. In some areas, upwards of 70 percent of those placed into shelters are euthanized. On average, only 35 percent of those placed into shelters are adopted.
Organizations like PNP and ARF are helping change these statistics by moving animals from overcrowded shelters to high-demand shelters where they have a chance of being adopted or have already been adopted by a “forever family” – they just need a way to get there.
“I was looking for meaningful ways to share flying with others,” said volunteer pilot Roxanne Parker who fell in love with animal transports after her first trip with Blue – a giant but gentle Pit Bull – to his forever home. “He slept during most of the flight, and casually looked out the window as any airline passenger would when we took off and landed,” she said.
“A friend of mine flew for [PNP] and told me about how much he enjoyed it,” said volunteer pilot Ryan McCormick. So McCormick and some of his friends began flying missions throughout the southeast. McCormick has successfully completed 10 rescue flights and has saved more than 25 dogs in the process.
PNP and ARF are just two of many 501c3 charitable organizations that have successfully used air and ground transports to save thousands of animals from euthanasia. The two organizations have relocated more than 75,000 animals since 2008.
Pilots do not receive any compensation for their time, fuel or operating costs. However, if they coordinate their flight through a 501c3 organization, they are eligible for a tax deduction.
“I’m up to 1813 animals transported now,” said Jeff Luizza, volunteer pilot who said he is currently not flying for a specific rescue organization but has in the past. “I got into it as an offshoot of flying sick kids. The liability got to high for flying the kids and moved into the shelter animals about ten years ago,” he said.
“[I’ve] lost count of how many specific rescue missions I’ve done, but it’s quite a lot,” said John Hayes, flight instructor and volunteer pilot. He has joined Luizza on rescue flights since last fall. “We move quite a bit of dogs,” he said.
Dogs aren’t the only animals flown during these missions. Some of the animals transported by PNP and ARF over the years include: dogs, cats, pigs, reptiles, and rabbits – just to name a few. “Two weeks ago we flew a new born Chimpanzee,” said Luizza.
Hayes and Luizza fly Luizza’s Beechcraft KingAir turboprop on most of their rescue trips. “We’ve had upwards of 50 dogs on flights before, sometimes more than [one flight] in a weekend,” said Hayes.
“To see the faces on the people when we hand over the pups,” is the best part according to Luizza, “it’s fun.”
But transport organizations are key to only one portion of stopping injustices to animals. How can you help?
“Please spay or neuter your pets.” – Bob Barker
The largest way you can help is by adopting pets that are currently in shelters. Buying pets from pet stores or breeders is simply encouraging the overbreeding and overpopulation problem. There are animals in shelters waiting for homes that will be euthanized if they don’t find homes soon.
If you cannot adopt but have extra room, volunteer through a rescue organization to foster pets in your home for a period of time.
(Photo courtesy of Ryan McCormick)
If you can’t have pets in your home then donate food, supplies or money to a local shelter or rescue organization. Did you know that one of the largest things shelters need right now is clean towels and bleach?
If you don’t have the means to donate then volunteer your time! Animals in shelters would love your attention for the afternoon. “[Working] with animal transport organizations is a wonderful way to use your time and knowledge to help others,” said Parker.
“The pilots get all the credit in PNP, but all we do is fly, which as pilots is already something we love,” said McCormick. “It’s the people on the ground that schedule these trips, foster the dogs, and contact the pilots that deserve the credit. [It’s] been incredible to work with them.”
If you can’t volunteer then please educate others. Share this post with your friends. Support local rescue groups and promote what they’re doing in the community. Let your colleagues know what they can do to help. Speak up for those that don’t have a voice.