In relay fashion, volunteers run a leg to deliver homeless pets to loving owners
April 18, 2013 12:15 am
The passenger sat quietly in a private plane chartered just for him.
As the Piper Warrior aircraft touched down at Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, a photographer snapped a photo — the passenger’s head, in profile, framed in the window of the back seat.
Then the pilots escorted the VIP out onto the wing, where he posed for more photos.
The special passenger was not a celebrity, star athlete or political figure but a 2-year-old English setter named Ranger who was being transported by volunteers for Ohio English Setter Rescue, Pilots N Paws and a new group, Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team.
Pilots Pete Lehmann and Rob McMaster attached two leashes to Ranger’s harness and led him to the tarmac, where he wagged his tail and greeted those who came to take him on the next leg of his journey.
Every week, cars, vans and airplanes transport such animals distances both short and long to new owners. Most are dogs, but the passengers also can be cats, birds and even pot bellied pigs and miniature donkeys.
These animals are not high-priced blue-ribbon winners, nor are they being transported for breeding. A lot have been rescued from breeders who did not take good care of them, and plenty are mixed breeds.
Many such transports are life-and-death situations.
Animals transported through Pittsburgh frequently come from low-income areas in the South and Midwest, where a lack of spay and neuter programs results in large numbers of unwanted dogs and cats. Many shelters in those areas euthanize a large percentage of animals, but some release animals to groups that will transport them to where they will be nursed back to health, neutered, trained, socialized and ultimately placed with new owners.
Most transports take place on weekends because the volunteers have weekday jobs. But some volunteers are so dedicated that they take personal vacation days to transport animals that must be moved quickly because they are scheduled for euthanasia.
Animal lovers have been transporting threatened pets for decades. But now, the Internet and social media, such as Facebook, have made scheduling easier while casting a wide net that pulls in more volunteers.
The transport process is costly, complicated and labor-intensive. It is a labor of love in which no one makes money.