A pair of Eskimo dogs are a bit closer to finding new homes, thanks to West Hancock Canine Rescue and Pilots N Paws Pet Rescue Services.
WHCR Director Anissa Sadeghi said the 7- and 8-year-old canines were surrendered by an owner in Hancock County, Ill. After determining that the animals were healthy and good-tempered enough to be placed with a new family, Sadeghi contacted Chicagoland Eskie Rescue. The Chicago-based, breed-specific group has ties to a foster organization in McMinnville, Tenn., which offered to take the dogs on a temporary basis.
The journey to Tennessee is a long one, so Sadeghi hopped on Pilots N Paws’ website for help. She’d used the service in the past to send a shih-tzu to Florida.
WHCR provided rescue and facility transport for the Eskimos, while the Keokuk Humane Society offered five days’ worth of lodging and care prior to the Jan. 31 journey.
Pilots N Paws was founded in 2008 by animal enthusiast Debi Boies and pilot Jon Wehrenberg. The concept formed when Wehrenberg agreed to help Boies fly a rescued Doberman from Florida to South Carolina. The successful trip got the pilot and animal rescuer thinking about how they could do the same for more animals. Many were being euthanized simply because there was no easy way to transport them hundreds of miles to new owners.
Thus began Pilots N Paws, a non-profit organization based at www.pilotsnpaws.org. The website connects rescue, shelter and foster organizations with volunteer pilots and plane owners willing to assist with animal transportation.
Pilots N Paws itself doesn’t coordinate transportation services but serves as a networking tool that allows groups to arrange or schedule flights or overnight foster care/shelter. Pilots handle the travel logistics, and the animal groups make sure the critters have food, water and other supplies needed for the trip.
Pilots and animal organizations either pay for supplies and travel or secure funding through sponsorships.
Today, the organization has 2,466 pilot volunteers and 8,281 rescuers. Any animal that can be carried in an airplane, whether it’s a dog, cat, pig, reptile, rabbit, etc., is a candidate for transport.
According to statistics provided in a news release from Pilots N Paws, more than 4 million unwanted pets are euthanized every year.
“While spay/neuter programs have worked to decrease domestic animal populations in some parts of the country, other areas are considered high-kill,” the news release said. “A staggering 70 percent of dogs that enter shelters in the southern part of the country are euthanized.”
Robin Dahle, a pilot based at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Centreville, Ill., traveled with co-pilot Tim Braun to Keokuk Municipal Airport to retrieve the animals. He flew back to St. Louis to meet Mike McGrath, a private instrument-rated pilot based out of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Mo.
McGrath and his co-pilot father, an Air Force veteran, covered the second leg of the trip from St. Louis to Tennessee.
“They swooped in and fueled up,” Sadeghi said about Dahle and Braun, whom she met at the airport when she dropped off the dogs. “It was so cold and they had headwinds, so they were running a little behind.”
Still, Sadeghi added, “I never once saw them without a grin on their faces. They were elated and thrilled. They were thanking us for the ability we gave them to help.”
The trek to and from Keokuk was Dahle’s first mission for Pilots N Paws. He learned about the organization from a client and friend named Jim Bordoni, who’s featured in the book “Dog is My Co-Pilot.”
“Jim and I were talking business on the phone one day and, as it always does, the conversation turned to flying,” Dahle said. “I was aware he was flying for PNP and asked him how he liked it.
“Well, one thing led to another,” Dahle added. “He sent me a copy of the book, and only a few stories in I called another friend who also flies for PNP in Seattle, Wash., by the name of Scott Black. Between Jim and Scott I was hooked. I’m a long-time pilot and aircraft owner and I felt it was my obligation to do this, so I signed up that evening on the (Pilots N Paws) website and started looking for missions.”
Dahle waited a couple of weeks for his first mission and wasn’t sure what to expect. An unforeseen snowstorm hit the Midwest that day.
“The weather was marginal for my preferences,” he said. “The wind was brutal, the ceilings were low and the temperature was frigid. But the experience was beyond belief. It is by far the most rewarding flying I’ve ever done – best flight ever.”
Dahle is working with four rescue groups to coordinate a flight for a five-week-old puppy and an English Pointer. The two dogs are coming from and going to separate parties, but their routes are nearly identical from St. Louis east.
“My hope is to combine the flights and get both animals to their new homes by Monday,” Dahle said. “The coordination of the flights is almost as fun as the flying. I feel driven to make it happen.”
Last week’s mission inspired Braun, who’s also a pilot, to start flying for Pilots N Paws as well.
Sadeghi’s appeal for transportation was sent to pilots throughout the Midwest, and McGrath seized the opportunity.
About five years ago, he was looking for a way to give back – perhaps in the realm of animal care – when he stumbled across an article written about the newly-formed Pilots N Paws. Since then, McGrath has participated in more than 40 Pilots N Paws flights. He’s transported anywhere from one to 17 dogs or cats at a time. Sometimes, he can combine missions.
“If I see two or three out there in the same direction, I try to hook them up,” McGrath said.
He usually makes trips that are 300 to 400 miles one way. He’s traveled to states such as Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
McGrath said Pilots N Paws missions cut the travel time from a day-long ordeal on the road to a matter of hours in the air. The animals he transports usually are pretty cooperative.
“Once we get them on the plane and get rolling, they fall asleep,” McGrath said about his furry passengers.
One of his favorite travelers was a male Great Pyrenees – a breed that can weigh up to 120 pounds. The massive critter willingly boarded McGrath’s plane and was quiet throughout the trip. McGrath occasionally felt the aircraft lean to the left, then to the right. He peered over his shoulder and noticed the dog was looking out the window on one side of the plane, then lumbering over to see the view on the other side.
Not all of McGrath’s passengers have been so docile.
“One got away from me on the ramp,” he said.
This dog was much smaller and less enthusiastic about traveling. When McGrath brought the animal to its destination, he had to remove it from its crate. The dog was huddled in the back corner of the carrier.
“I took off the top (of the crate) and he jumped out,” McGrath said.
Meanwhile, a corporate jet had landed nearby, and business men in suits were stepping onto the jetway. When they saw McGrath chasing the little dog, they joined the pursuit and spent the next half hour trying to capture it.
While the Eskimos were compliant on Jan. 31, the weather was not. A round trip that normally takes four hours lasted for 10, according to McGrath.
“The headwinds were unbelievable,” he said.
Challenging conditions aside, McGrath is always satisfied with the fruits of his labor.
When a litter of puppies shows up on the jetway, “the airport personnel come out in droves,” he said. “It’s hard not to – especially when you find out (the animals) are going to a good home.”
To learn more about Pilots N Paws, go to www.pilotsnpaws.org.
WHCR is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that teams up with like-minded animal rescue groups in the Tri-State Area to provide short-term foster care and transportation throughout the upper Midwest. Sadeghi attributed the reduction of euthanizations in recent years to that spirit of collaboration.
For more information about services provided by West Hancock Canine Rescue or to learn about volunteer opportunities, call Sadeghi at 319-795-4221 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.