Pilots N Paws is a nonprofit organization that works with pilots to rescue animals all throughout the United States. The organization was founded 15 years ago and is growing strong today, with pilots in all 50 states in the US. The rescue process is entirely free for the person requesting rescue, and the pilots are volunteers who do not receive any assistance with expenses.
About Pilots N Paws
Fifteen years ago, Pilots N Paws was founded by Debi Boies, an animal lover, and Jon Wehrenberg, a pilot. Debi wanted to adopt a dog and needed to get it from Florida to South Carolina, so Jon helped her make it happen. At the time, most animals were transported on the ground, but the two had the idea of transporting the animals via plane. Thus, Pilots N Paws began.
Today, Pilots N Paws operates in all 50 states in the United States. Since its founding in 2008, more than 200,000 animals have been rescued, and about 16,000 animals are rescued yearly. The Pilots N Paws pilot network has grown to over 6,000 pilots, most concentrated on the East or West coasts of the United States. The organization also partnered with Cirrus, who supports the organization financially and has even provided aircraft for missions.
Volunteer pilot Dan, his wife, co-pilot Mike, and another friend flew Teddy & Dodger from Oklahoma to Chicago where foster pet parents Carol and Dennis were picking up Dodger, and Kim was picking up Teddy to be his foster mom. Photo: Pilots N Paws
Though Pilots N Paws typically rescues dogs and cats, the organization has been able to rescue all kinds of animals, even working with the United States Coast Guard. Pilots have flown dolphins, a bear cub badly burned in a wildfire, eagles, snakes, and rescued turtles in partnership with the Coast Guard.
Pilots N Paws provides a simple service, and the organization acts more as the intermediary party between the pilot and the person wanting to adopt the animal. The goal is not to make the pilot go significantly out of their way to rescue an animal but rather to have them rescue the animal on a flight they would take regardless. Pilots enter their home base on the Pilots N Paws website and how far they are willing to fly, which helps coordinate the rescues.
Pilots often rise & shine early to beat the heat. Pilots N Paws volunteer pilot Angela began her mission at 3.15am so puppies Trina & Tuck along with adult dog Leona could start their long trip from Oklahome to Burlington, WI to find their furever homes. Photo: Pilots N Paws
The “customer” side is quite simple, the person needing transportation of an animal has to place a request on the Pilots N’Paws website, and the pilots can view requests like a forum. Once a pilot accepts a transportation request, they coordinate the pickup of the animal, which most often occurs at the nearest airport to the animal. When filling out a transport request, the requester is asked if they are willing to drive the animal to the airport, making the process much smoother for the pilots.
Aaron O’Connell has been a pilot for years and has been a consistent part of the Pilots N Paws rescue missions since 2014 when he acquired the Cirrus aircraft he flies today. He is based in Southern California in the Los Angeles area. Simple Flying recently had the chance to chat with Aaron and the executive director of Pilots N Paws, Kate Quinn, about the organization and the role Aaron has played over the last eight years.
“I enjoy it [flying] the most when I feel the safest, and I feel the safest when I am consistently flying.”
He found himself flying often and enjoying it, but it was lonely. So O’Connell thought, “It is rewarding to fulfill my passion, but can I share it with others?” Beyond a love for flying, O’Connell loved animals, so he began to scour the internet to find something he could do to give back, which is when he found Pilots N Paws.
Aaron recently flew a mission to rescue Delilah. Photo: Pilots N Paws
To date, O’Connell has flown more than 70 missions to rescue animals, sometimes saving multiple in one flight, including various dogs and even litters of puppies. Perhaps the most memorable and fulfilling mission was one he flew to rescue a puppy Mastiff. The puppy was suffering from organ issues and needed surgery. A vet in Santa Rosa, California (located hours away from the Los Angeles area) said he would perform the surgery pro bono at a veterinarian school as an opportunity to teach his students.
O’Connell said that having a reason to fly makes flying all the more fun. He tries to fly once every two weeks and complete at least one mission every two-three weeks, depending on the availability of a local mission. O’Connell loves the work so much that if he could rescue an animal on every flight, he would. But Los Angeles is an area saturated with pilots and airports, so the missions get filled very quickly.
Have you ever heard of animal rescues being by volunteer pilots? What do you think of the work that Pilots N Paws is doing? Let us know in the comments below.