“We need to do something!” With that simple statement, a great idea came to life and Pilots N Paws was born. The online program that unites volunteer pilots with animal rescue organizations grew out of one woman’s need to make a home for a Doberman that had been rescued in Florida.
Debi Boies had recently lost her own 12-year-old Doberman, and it wasn’t long before she began searching for another dog to bring into her South Carolina home. Her search was successful, but one problem remained. How would her new Doberman get from Florida to upstate South Carolina?
Boies recalls, “I sent out an email to my friends to see if any of them were by chance making a trip from Florida to the Carolinas. My friend and soon to be co-founder of Pilots N Paws, Jon Wehrenberg of Knoxville,Tennessee, responded to my plea and generously offered to fly the Dobie from Florida to SC. I was overwhelmed at his generosity. After the transport flight, Jon asked me questions about rescue work and animals in shelters, including what happens to them, where they go, and how they get there. The easiest reply was to send him to various websites detailing how ground coordinators set up vehicle transports, and I asked him to view several shelter sites as well. The next day he sent an email and said, we need to do something! I agreed and asked if he thought Pilots N Paws would be an acceptable name. Of course it was, and a great idea took shape.”
Since the first official flight in 2008, volunteer pilots have flown thousands of dogs, cats and other rescued animalsto new homes throughout the country. Currently, over 2000 pilots are registered on the website-based forum that provides a venue for rescue organizations to post their transport needs, and for pilots to respond with offers to fly the animals.
Boies says that an accurate count of the numbers of animals helped is impossible, because pilots make their arrangements directly with rescue groups, and though many will send stories and pictures, “… others simply fly when they can and pilots are never seeking accolades for the work they do, they just want to help.”
And pilots help by doing what they do best, they fly. Except on Pilots N Paws missions, they do so with special passengers that are on their way to new forever homes, often after just escaping certain death at overcrowded shelters. They live because people make a choice to save them, and then pilots use their skills and time to fly them hundreds or thousands of miles to safety.
To Boies, every animal saved is special. But when pressed, she remembers the story of a dog that was rescued, nursed to good health and eventually flown to Pennsylvania; a story that speaks to the human kindness that changes the lives of not just the animals, but of those who save them, “It was the week of Christmas, cold and frigid temperatures, when a man driving by a local shelter thought he saw a blanket move on the side of the road. It was dark, he wasn’t sure, so he turned around and went to check. Inside the blanket was a Doberman who was so covered in sores that the pads were missing from his feet and he could not stand. This kind man took the Doberman in, contacted rescue and begged for help. It wasn’t long before “Christmas” received the veterinary care he so desperately needed and is now in a loving home. If not for the kindness of this passerby, this dog would have died in the freezing cold that night. Instead, he is smiling , healthy and happy! He is one of the lucky ones…..It just takes one person to make a change in the life of one animal, why not be that one?”
The effect on those who volunteer is best expressed in their own words: “This is the most rewarding flight I have ever made”, “I love dogs, I love to fly so why not make a difference?”, “This flight was the first time I have cried in years after one of my passengers stood on her paws and kissed my face”, “Such a good dog, I could not have had a better co-pilot”, “Sometimes a certain rescue flight stays with you forever, this one’s my forever one”, a great day for flying with rescues on board”.
Volunteer pilots speak of the rescue organizations as angels, and the organizations speak of the pilots as angels. All the animals know is that life is now good, and for those that saved them, that’s enough.
To learn more or to volunteer, visit Pilots N Paws.