Flying to the rescue: Volunteer pilots sought to ferry animals to good homes
Friday August 24th 2012 – by Lindsay Hughes
Five years ago, Pilots N Paws was launched in the U.S. The non-profit organization connects general aviation pilots with animal rescue shelters in need of air transportation services. Today, there are more than 2,800 pilot volunteers south of the border, with 12,000 additional volunteers, who together have saved the lives of countless animals. Now, Vancouver-based dog trainer and rescue advocate, Gini Green, has launched Pilots N Paws Canada.
“In my background doing rescue, the constant that I was hearing was that it’s so arduous to get animals transferred from one rescue to another –[it can be] hours of transport with lots of stops so the animals can have a break. It’s hard on them. People said, ‘If we had an air component that would make such a difference,’ ” said Green. “In January, I started looking for a good air component for the Canadian rescues. I didn’t see very much, but in the U.S., Pilots N Paws kept coming up constantly. People were saying ‘they’re the best, absolutely the best.’ ”
Green contacted Debi Boies; Pilots N Paws co-founder, and for four months they worked together to create a similar but stand-alone Canadian organization. The American organization, having grown so large, were not interested in taking on the responsibility for a Canadian chapter, nor did they have the time and volunteers to do so. However, they were happy to grant Green a licence to launch her own organization under the same name.
“We have the opportunity to do it up here in Canada, tailoring it to our own unique needs, which is really exciting for us,” Green told Canadian Skies.
Pilots N Paws Canada’s website connects the aviation and animal rescue communities, two groups that would normally rarely meet. Overcrowded rescue shelters, or those that need to transport an animal to a new owner in a different city, can explain their animal transportation needs on the website forum. Animals are transported from rescue-to-rescue, or from rescue to a new, shelter-approved owner.
Volunteer pilots choose their desired flight, and contact the shelter through the website’s forum to make arrangements. Rescues take care of airport drop off and pickup, give the animals all necessary vaccinations and medical clearances, and make sure they are spayed or neutered. They are responsible for providing the pilot with all necessary documentation to enable the animal to fly. The pilot simply needs to take an animal from one airport, to the next.
Flights are arranged in accordance with the pilot’s schedule and comfort level when it comes to weather, timing, and size and breed of the animal being moved. Green said pilots are completely in control of what animal comes on board.
Despite a community of dedicated shelters, animal over-population is an ongoing issue across Canada, and rescue advocates are scrambling to place animals in new homes or no-kill shelters. Transporting animals by ground is an expensive and difficult mission, and volunteer pilots can make all the difference. Green spoke of a rescue she participated in last March: “We had 25 Huskies that we took from Eastern Canada across the country by truck. It took over two weeks and cost over $11,000. The stress on the animals was pretty high,” she said.
The majority of Pilots N Paws Canada’s pilots live in British Columbia or Southern Ontario. More are needed, particularly in Quebec, where animal cullings are still legal. Despite recent reform of its animal cruelty laws, Quebec has been named by the Animal Legal Defence Fund as the province with the weakest animal protection legislation.
Green said there are some tremendous animal rescue organizations in Quebec working to prevent these issues. However, more volunteer pilots to help move the animals away from these conditions, into no-kill shelters and new homes, would save many lives.
“Pilots love to fly and they’ll do it for just about anything. They can take a flight and have some pooch in the back seat waiting to go to a loving home, so it’s really rewarding,” said Green. “They give us so much without any expectation of return. I think we owe them a better life if we can manage it.”
Today, Pilots N Paws Canada has 28 volunteer pilots on its roster. Green’s goal is to bump that number up to 50 within the organization’s first year.
To volunteer with Pilots N Paws Canada, visit the website and join the forum.