On a clear, sunny day, Galaxy took flight.
The lanky white German shepherd soared high above the clouds on a private plane, a far cry from the streets of Southaven, Mississippi, where she was found. After getting used to the motion, Galaxy settled in to relax. She was finally going home.
Galaxy is one of the many lucky pets rescued and transported by Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit that pairs volunteer pilots with animals in need.
Pilots N Paws (PNP) was created in 2008, when Debi Boies asked pilot Jon Wehrenberg to help her fly a Doberman from Florida to South Carolina to save it from a cruel fate. The successful flight sparked the idea to rescue and relocated more animals — a service that is sorely needed.
Despite the success of spay and neuter campaigns, pet overpopulation remains a serious issue, and kill shelters are common, with an estimated 1.5 million dogs and cats euthanized each year. This problem is especially pronounced in parts of the rural South where there is limited access to affordable spaying and neutering services and poorly enforced leash laws.
PNP has more than 5,000 volunteer pilots using its online message board to look for animals in need of relocation.
Some pilots may be flying for business or pleasure and will pick up an animal headed to or from their destination. Others will take to the air specifically for PNP missions, each about 300 miles, bringing their kids or families along. It’s a great way to volunteer, take to the skies, and see a new city outside of lunch at the airport.
PNP executive director Kate Quinn shared a recent e-mail from one of the pilots who wrote, “For me personally, I love to fly, my kids and I love animals, we always adopt rescue dogs. PNP gives me a rewarding reason to fly rather than just getting a burger.”
The organization boasts another 12,000 volunteers on the ground who assist as foster parents, help out with transport to and from the airport, and coordinate rescues and pick-ups from shelters. A few of these volunteers have even started taking flying lessons so they can fly for PNP.
This year, PNP pilots will transport more than 15,000 animals.
Since the organization’s founding, more than 150,000 animals have been rescued and relocated, including sweet Galaxy.
After getting picked up in Mississippi, she was taken in by a white German shepherd rescue in Tennessee then flew with pilot Jim Carney to her foster home in Alton, Illinois.
All of this may seem like a lot of work, time, and effort to save one pet, but it’s bigger than that.
Each animal rescued becomes a beloved family member, trusted companion, loyal best friend, or even a hard working service dog. The animals are grateful beyond measure to live out their lives with loving families. For the humans, the gratitude is mutual.
“It’s amazing to see the pilots stay in touch with the adoptive homes. They’ll get Christmas cards and updates,” Quinn says. “It’s something that has a ripple effect. … I think it just enriches peoples lives.”
After all, they’re good dogs, Brent. And good people too.