Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pilots N Paws

Here’s a way for pilots to help save the lives of some of our best friends

Pilots N Paws is directed at pets that need a new home and have no one to pay for their relocation. Several years ago, I was involved with a group of dog people in Los Angeles who transported retired racing greyhounds from the racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, to new homes in the United States. After nursing the animals back to health, the Southern California Greyhound Adoption Legion ( placed dogs in homes all over the West, and therein lies the rub: Dog transport around California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico was putting 100,000 miles a year on their van. Then, a young couple in the swimming-pool business in Thermal, Calif., Pat and Carol Cattarin, volunteered their Cessna 421 to fly the greyhounds around the Southwest in style.

I did a story on the Cattarins’ canine transport service a few years back for Plane & Pilot’s sister publication, Pilot Journal. Pilots N Paws is slightly different in that it deals in all types of dogs, from Afghan hounds to Yorkshire terriers, and it flies them to destinations all over the States.

Pilots N Paws is the collective brainchild of Debi and Bob Boies and Jon Wehrenberg of Landrum, S.C. The Boies family was adopting a Doberman from Tallahassee, Fla., and Wehrenberg volunteered his airplane to pick up the animal and transport it north.

From that experience, the group launched Pilots N Paws, a transportation service designed specifically to move rescue animals from one place to another by private aircraft. Nearly five million dogs are euthanized every year because shelters in some of the more populous areas simply can’t handle the overpopulation of animals. Pilots N Paws serves as a clearinghouse to bring together animals that need to be relocated and pilots willing to help alleviate the problem.

Wehrenberg, pilot of that first Pilots N Paws mission, says the goal is simply to keep animals alive: “Pilots’ involvement can help save thousands of animals from euthanasia.” Because the service is strictly voluntary and hinges on people using the website to coordinate pickup and delivery of animals, Pilots N Paws has no way of knowing exactly how many pets have been saved, but anecdotal information suggests that more than 1,000 dogs, cats and other animals have received free rides to new homes in parts of the United States where adoptions are more readily available. Pilots N Paws is a 501(c)(3) organization, so reasonable flying expenses are tax-deductible.

So far, Pilots N Paws has recruited some 370 pilots and 2,000 members on its website. Pilots fly everything from King Airs and 340s to SR22s and 172s on mercy missions. Dogs and cats aren’t the only passengers, either. A recent flight transported three snakes and a monster lizard from southern Florida to points north. Another flight moved a potbellied pig and a baby chick across country.

Though the service was initiated in the Southeast, more and more rescues are taking place in other parts of the country. I’ve signed up with Pilots N Paws ( in Southern California, despite the fact that my Mooney isn’t ideally suited to carry anything much larger than a cocker spaniel in a crate. Once, a dozen years ago, before I had the new leather interior installed, I did load both German shepherds into the back seat at the same time. Things were crowded, but it was worth a trip around the pattern.

That’s not to suggest you have to fly a large airplane to help Pilots N Paws move rescue animals around the nation. A 152 or a Super Cub could be pressed into service to move a small dog or cat several hundred miles to a better location where adoption service is friendlier.

There’s nothing clichéd about the suggestion that dogs are man’s best friend, and Pilots N Paws is a way for those of us granted the gift of flight to give back.

Bill Cox is in his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot. He provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide. E-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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