Marshmallow and S’mores waited patiently Saturday morning at the Downtown Municipal Airport for the flight that would take them to new homes. The two Chihuahuas sat quietly in their carrier while Raymond Fosdick prepared the plane that would transport the dogs from Greenville to Lynchburg, Va., where workers with a rescue organization there were waiting to take Marshmallow and S’mores to new families.
The two puppies were but a couple of the 400 dogs that made flights Saturday morning as part of Pilots N Paws. The animal rescue organization was started in 2008 by Landrum resident, Debi Boies and connects animals who are in need of homes with pilots who can transport them to places where they can be adopted. Most of the dogs Saturday came from the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee and were flying to Virginia, New Jersey and the DC area.
Nationwide, about 2.7 million animals put to death each year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but Pilots N Paws is doing its part to put a dent in that number. So far, the organization’s 4,200 volunteer pilots from all over the country have helped fly about 60,000 animals to new homes in just six years. But the goal, Boies said is for Pilots N Paws to be obsolete.
“We don’t want to have to keep doing this, and it’s a completely solvable problem,” Boies said. “There are so many things in this world we can’t solve. But this one we can.”
The solution is educating communities and representatives about the importance and necessity of spaying and neutering pets, Boies said.
Saturday’s event was one of Pilots N Paws’ larger awareness events, Boies said, with about 120 pilots volunteered to fly around 400 dogs. Elliott Degraff had come down from Poolesville, Md. to participate in the event Saturday. The 81-year-old had been flying with Pilots N’ Paws about five years and has flown as many as 13 animals at a time on his Piper Cherokee 140.
Saturday, Degraff had two dogs on his plane.
“It gives ya a reason to go flyin,” he said with a smile.
The dogs came from many different states but the largest contingent may have been from the Murray County Humane Society in Chatsworth, Ga. The group, led by interim director Angela Micik left their facility at around 1:30 a.m. to bring 53 dogs to the rescue event in Greenville. Micik fought back tears as she described the situations many of the animals had come from.
Some, like Peppy, she said had been abandoned to die. Others, were surrendered by owners when they moved to new states, and others had been abandoned when elderly caretakers had fallen ill.
“It’s bittersweet,” Micik said with tears in her eyes. “We’re going to miss them, but to know they’re going to get one on one attention now instead of one on 50 is beyond words.”
Pam Grier stood watching the chaos with a smile on her face. The Golden Globe nominated actress has been involved with Pilots N Paws for about three years and has been a mainstay at events like the one Saturday.
“I said ‘how can I help,'” Grier said, taking a break from playing with the dogs boarding the planes. “How can I let people know about spaying and neutering? How can I help teach people that animals are not the lower form? And it has been remarkable.”
That sense of giving back is what drew Jeff Bennett into the Pilots N Paws program as a volunteer pilot from almost the beginning. The Florida Keys resident estimated that he’d flown hundreds of dogs in his time as a volunteer, averaging about two trips a month.
Asked how long he’d keep flying animals, Bennett answered without hesitation, “I’ll keep doing it as long as I can fly.”
On Saturday, Bennett was set to transport six dogs, the details of which were listed on several pieces of paper he held in his hand. The details included a photograph of each pup, its name, weight and place of origin.
Sometimes, Bennett said, the information will also indicates how dire the animal’s situation is. Many are days away from being euthanized.
“I was unaware of how serious a problem there was until I got involved,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t imagine a dog getting euthanized simply because it didn’t have transportation.”
Boies conceived of Pilots N Paws when she was adopting her Doberman, Brock. Brock was coming from a home in Florida and Boies called around to friends in that area to see if one might be able to transport Brock to South Carolina. Such a network of transport had been commonplace for rescue organizations seeking to move at-risk animals to places where they could be adopted. But the driving system had always had its flaws, so when a pilot friend offered to fly Brock to Boies and it sparked an idea about using pilots to transport animals.
Now, the Pilots N Paws website acts as a connector between rescue organizations seeking homes for animals and volunteer pilots. Pilots just pick up pets as needed and drop them off on their way to their destination.
“It’s make a flight, save a life,” Boise said, echoing her organization’s tagline. “But our goal is to become a dinosaur.”
By 9 a.m. Saturday, most of the dogs were boarded on planes and ready to start their new lives. Marshmallow and S’mores sat quietly tucked inside the vintage A-35 V-Tail Bonanza, ready for takeoff. The plane’s pilot, Fosdick, jumped at the chance to help out. The Rock Hill resident estimated they’d arrive in Virginia by about 10:30 a.m. and would be back in Rock hill by about 1 p.m. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, he said.
“The plane was going to be flying anyway, so might as well do something good with it,” Fosdick said.
The transport event Saturday was sponsored by Subaru, Petmate, a manufacturer of pet products and Animal Aid USA, a non-profit that drives animals from high kill shelters to rescue homes in other states.
For more information on Pilots N Paws visit www.pilotsnpaws.org.