Dallas Cubs, puppies and kittens make most of us emotional. It can be difficult to walk away without saying “hey, how cute” to those furry friends. Unfortunately, approximately 6.3 million pets enter US animal shelters annually.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), about 36% of them have to be euthanized due to overpopulation. The idea that one of these adorable animals could be euthanized is heartbreaking.
In February 2008, animal lover Debbie Bois and pilot John Wehrenberg discovered a way to help more animals survive when they successfully transported a rescued Doberman Pinscher from Florida to South Carolina. This flight was something special. Not only did this give the dog another chance in life, it also led to the creation of Pilot N Pause.
Pilot N Pause is an organization dedicated to rescuing animals by flying them to no-kill animal shelters or new forever homes across the United States. These rescues, made possible by thousands of volunteer general aviation pilots, resemble a well-choreographed ballet involving multiple aircraft, pilots and assistants.
Since the first flight in February 2008, around 6,000 pilots have transported more than 200,000 animals. Through the Pilot N Pause discussion forum, animal rescue, shelter and adoption volunteers can connect with pilots and plane owners who are donating their time and equipment to help pets go wherever they go.
Photos: Paws N Pilots
A typical Pilot en Paws journey begins with a transport request posted on an online forum. Pilots will answer if they can do any or all of the rides. Coordination of flight details via forum, email or text messages is left to rescuers and pilots.
On the agreed day and time, animal and pilot meet at the designated airport and the flight to a better future begins. Upon arrival at the final destination, the recipient meets the flight and collects the happy animal. Many pilots bond with their beloved passengers and often keep in touch with their new families after the trip.
“Whenever I’m free, I check the board to see if there are flights I can help with,” says Matthew May, Pilot En Pause volunteer pilot. Sometimes these animals have multiple flights in one day, especially when traveling across the country. While a pilot may not be able to complete the entire journey, they may be able to work one leg and then let the other pilot take over. When missions cannot be completed in a single day due to duration, weather, or mechanical challenges, foster homes take in animals overnight. Depending on the circumstances, they will continue their journey the next day with the same or new pilots.
Photo: Paws N Pilots
Sometimes a pilot is so attached to an animal that he doesn’t want to complete the planned mission. It was the same with Corbin Geiger. Geyser helped with a multi-day trip, agreeing to take in a black Lab overnight and transport it the next day. After the initial introduction, the pilot knew he would not be taking this pup anywhere and adopted him instead.
Geiger promptly canceled the next day’s flight, contacted the Requisition Shelter about a change of plan, and began the adoption process. Amelia, aptly named after Amelia Earhart, has been a popular member of the Geyser family ever since. “Amelia often flies with me. Even when we’re not hiking or kayaking, she hangs out with me in hangars,” says Geiger. “Without Pilot N Pause I would have been a great partner and would have missed a lot of memories.”
While many volunteers are needed to operate a pilot during the break, aviators play an important role as they devote time to work on their planes and flights. High fuel costs are a huge personal expense, not to mention maintenance and normal running costs. However, pilots believe such a cost is worth it and say the biggest challenge is not bringing all the animals home!
Volunteer pilot Matthew May shares some thoughts on his experience with Pilot N Pause.
How did you come to Pilot N Pause?
I saw a social media post about the whole trip and went to the website to find out more about the organisation. Seeing the many pictures of animals flying to new homes caught my attention. I signed up as a volunteer thinking I’d do a trip or two. I was hooked after the first one and now try to help whenever possible.
What was the longest transport flight you’ve ever been on?
I worked on a route of overland transportation from Florida to Colorado. The dog had a total of four flights in two days. I picked it up in Dallas, took it to Amarillo, and another pilot got it from there. It is not uncommon for multiple pilots to assist on a multi-leg voyage. The animals are usually quite well-behaved and often look out of the window or take a nap. They are great travelers!
What is your most memorable flight?
To be honest, every flight is unforgettable because every animal is unforgettable in its own right. It’s like they know something good is about to happen. There was a dog that had cancer in his leg. The host’s dwelling lacked the funds to provide the advanced medical care needed. I took the puppy to another shelter in another state where he was treated. Later a new family adopted the dog and I was happy to contribute to the good result.
Thank you to Corbin Geiger, Matthew May and the thousands of other volunteers who have contributed to the success of Pilot N Pause. To learn more about this valuable organization, please visit pilot,
This story is included in the August 2022 issue respiratory tract Magazine, available now.
Article written by Alice S. May. Featured image: Paws N Pilots