Puppies Get New Leash on Life Thanks to Volunteer Pilots
February 22, 2016
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  • There are thousands of dogs and cats across the country in need of homes, but sometimes the biggest challenge of rescuing those animals is getting them to their forever homes. Enter Pilots and Paws, an organization with thousands of volunteers across the country who have a special skill, and are willing to use it for the greater good.

    That special skill is the ability to fly a plane. The pilots and volunteers also have something else: the desire to give back. We got to tag along with one rescue that had a happy ending right here in the DMV.

    Fast forward to the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport one Saturday morning.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at their faces but these puppies have had a rough start at life. The five Australian shepherds began their journey in Zanesville, Ohio.

    It’s all thanks to a team of people and Pilots and Paws, starting with a plea for help online, at There, volunteer pilots, like Mel Etheridge, can sign up and offer to shuttle animals to safety. “It just said, we’ve got five puppies in Zanesville and we’ve got to get them to Middletown,” remembers Etheridge.

    When he heard their story, he knew he had to do something. “He didn’t want them,” says Etheridge about the puppies’ previous owner, “So he was going to hit them over the head with a hammer.”Then, the best emotion: one that can only come from puppies. “Oh hi guys! Oh my gosh, you guys are such a blessing.”

    Before the puppies arrive, it’s a mixed bag of emotions; sadness for where they’ve been, regret for those they couldn’t save and anxiety for what’s to come. “These puppies had to be taken away from their mom at four weeks old,” says Ellen Van Vogelpoel, as she waits for the puppies to land. “Their dad was just shot and killed, because they didn’t want to deal with it. We would have taken them all in a heartbeat.”

    In Middletown, Maryland an organization called Tomorrow’s Promise agreed to take them. “You absolutely never get used to not having tears, the joy of rescue. And knowing that it doesn’t save every dog, which we would love to do, but it saves these five. Right now. So one dog at a time, and we sure can make a difference,” says Van Vogelpoel. Luckily a concerned citizen heard about the possible killing of the puppies and set the rescue plan in motion.

    The difference is big in the lives of the Australian shepherds, but also in the lives of their future families. Because those who know the love and loyalty of a dog, know that joy is infinite. “The dog is the only animal that derives joy out of pleasing. So I kind of think that hopefully I’m bringing that joy and love to five dogs and I’ve also brought joy and love to five families,” says Etheridge.

    Rescuers with Tomorrow’s Promise hope people will learn from this. “Hopefully, some people will learn from this, that there are people out there and maybe in turn they will change their ways and become more responsible in breeding,” says Van Vogelpoel.

    Two of the puppies already have new homes where they are training to be search and rescue dogs. Two others from the litter will be therapy dogs, and just one puppy remains, Drew.

    Drew will soon be ready to go home with his new family. If you would like more information about adopting Drew, visit Tomorrow’s Promise.