Debi Boies has been rescuing dogs all her life. But the seeds for Pilots N Paws were sown two years ago, when she and her husband wanted to transport a Doberman named Brock from a rescue group in Florida to their home in South Carolina.
Good friend, pilot and now Pilots N Paws co-founder Jon Wehrenberg offered to fly Brock to his forever home. Since then, more than 500 general aviation pilots have followed Wehrenberg’s lead, volunteering their time and expenses to give animals the flights that save their lives.
Pilots N Paws serves as a conduit between animal rescue organizations and general aviation pilots. To prevent the euthanasia of those in their care, shelter and rescue operators register on the Pilots N Paws website and state their transportation needs in a forum. Likewise, pilots who are able to transport animals also register and state their availability.
Although Boies and Wehrenberg do plenty of behind-the-scenes work to make the process as seamless as possible, the website is meant to facilitate direct communication between shelters and pilots. Boies told us it’s best to “let the people who care work together.”
Speaking for the entire board, Boies feels that the group of pilots who volunteer for Pilots N Paws represent the “best of humanity. They are extraordinarily generous with their time and money, making trips just for the purpose of transporting animals in need. Of course, they all love to fly, and jump at every opportunity to do so. And they also love dogs and cats, often creating bonds during the trip which result in an unplanned adoption!”
General aviation consists of private pilots who fly their own or rental planes. As a group, they are known for their volunteer work and contributions to their community, including helping people receive medical attention, providing disaster and emergency relief, and flying for environmental support.
Air Care Alliance provides a central listing of charitable aviation groups that provide flights when financial need or other special circumstances would mean a compelling need goes unfulfilled.
General aviation is currently facing serious financial challenges due to recent fee increases and burdensome security requirements. Actor Harrison Ford, himself a pilot, serves as spokesperson for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, hoping to help inform the public about the important role general aviation plays in our economy.
Pilots N Paws 5000 is an exciting endeavor Boies and Wehrenberg have undertaken to raise awareness about the problems facing general aviation as well as ”high-kill” rates – the American Humane Society estimates that over 9 million animals are being euthanized annually. The goal of Pilot N Paws 5000 is to transport 5,000 animals from Sept. 12-20. The process for participation is similar to everyday operations, with a special 5000 forum set up for the event.
Besides flying one of the most thrilling, low-level aerobatic routines in the world at this summer’s Air Venture in Oshkosh, Patty Wagstaff, dog lover and six-time member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team, is taking time to help promote Pilots N Paws 5000 within her flying community.
The majority of volunteers are able to fly legs of up to 300 nautical miles. Pilots N Paws would love to see additional volunteers from the corporate jet community so that cross-country transportation needs could be met.
Flights need not be dedicated exclusively to transporting animals, but can be accomplished in conjunction with other purposes. Additionally, some areas of the country, such as the southern region, have higher needs. Pilots N Paws is hoping to increase transports to accommodate many unmet needs in those areas.