Bellingham volunteer pilots fly rescue missions to save two dogs
Published: September 26, 2012
By KIE RELYEA — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Roo the reindeer Chihuahua and Maggie the mini-pinscher have escaped death with the help of two Bellingham pilots who flew the dogs to new lives.
The pilots – Michael O’Shea and Jeffrey Lustick – volunteered to help rescue Roo and Maggie through South Carolina-based nonprofit Pilots N Paws.
“It combines my love of flying with my love of animals,” said Lustick, an attorney. “The animals, they know they’re being saved. They know they’re going to a better life.”
Founded in February 2008, Pilots N Paws is an online effort that enables general aviation pilots to connect with rescue volunteers to move animals – otherwise facing euthanasia or enduring abuse and other hardships – into new homes.
The organization has more than 3,000 pilots who volunteer their time and airplanes, over 12,800 registered users, and 36,397 “likes” on Facebook, according to Kathleen Quinn, executive director of Pilots N Paws.
It flies about 12,000 rescue animals each year, she said, noting that Pilots N Paws has volunteer pilots in 49 states.
O’Shea and Lustick are among those pilots offering free flights, and the network of humans working to save animals.
On Friday, Sept. 14, O’Shea flew to Snohomish County Airport to pick up 11/2-year-old Roo – on the list to be euthanized in San Jose, Calif., before a rescue group saved him – and flew back to Bellingham on his leg of the effort.
On Sunday, Sept. 16, O’Shea drove the 10-pound dog to WestJet Cargo at Vancouver International Airport, where Roo was flown to Toronto on the last bit of his journey to what would be his new home in Embro, Ontario, in Canada.
“It’s quite an operation, but it’s very gratifying,” O’Shea said in the days before he flew off to save Roo, short for Rooter because of all the people who were rooting for him.
“The amount of euthanasia that they have to do in some of these shelters because they don’t have any other way is heartbreaking,” said O’Shea, the vice president and general manager of Cascade Radio Group. “You get some of these stories, it makes you want to cry.”
If there are tears for Maggie, they will be tears of joy.
She received a new chance at life thanks, in part, to Lustick and Kay Warner of Blaine.
On Friday, Sept. 21, Lustick flew to Sea-Tac Airport to pick up Maggie, who came from Houston by way of uShip, then flew her back to Bellingham International Airport, where Warner picked her up.
“It’s a real heart-warming experience to do this kind of work,” Lustick said.
Warner first learned of Maggie’s plight on Facebook; the dog was in Texas and was going to be euthanized unless a new owner could be found.
Maggie was less than a year old, Warner said.
“It’s a shame to be putting that poor little dog down; she’s not even an adult yet,” Warner remembered thinking.
The Blaine resident said she wasn’t looking for another pet and already had two English setters at home.
“I didn’t really need another dog,” Warner said. “But there was one that I could help.”
Maggie has adapted to her new home.
‘She’s very funny, she really is,” Warner said. “She doesn’t let me out of her sight. She follows me from room to room. She is just glued to me.”