Pilots take to the skies flying dogs to new homes, saving pets’ lives

Pilots are connecting with animal advocates to save lives one paw at a time

Around the country, some organizations report over 900,000 animals are euthanized each year. However, animal advocates are thinking of creative ways to save lives.

Many animal shelters across the country are reaching capacity, which lead to euthanasia.

According to Asilomar data collected by San Antonio Animal Care Services, there were 2,956 dogs and cats that were euthanized during the 2022 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2021 - Sept. 30, 2022).

Bryant Hamstra is a volunteer pilot with Pilots N Paws, a national nonprofit organization that connects private pilots to animal rescues. There are currently over 6,000 volunteer pilots who transport at risk animals to rescue shelters, or fosters across the country.

“Instead of just flying around in a circle, I can actually get in a plane, meet people I never would meet, see places I would have never seen, and help all involved,” Hamstra said.

Volunteers associated with animal rescues communicate with pilots through an online message board. A person seeking a transport fills out a request, along with information on the animal and the cities and states of pickup and drop off.

A pilot can fly anywhere up to 250 miles, beyond that, other pilots can assist with different legs of a transport.

Jason Chipkin, who is from California and has been with organization since it started, has flown 40 to 50 rescues during that time.

“It totally makes a more reachable experience when you have a pilot that can fly a couple of hours instead of trying to find somebody, two or three people drive to drive six or eight hours,” Chipkin said. “It definitely broaden the horizons in terms of animal rescue. Fast and efficient is the name of the game. The flight itself, the dog is a little nervous, but then when you get to the other end, the adopting family is so excited, and it’s kind of like a weight off your shoulders. OK, there’s one more saved, but lets go back and start getting the next one ready.”

There are over 12,800 registered users who coordinate flights. Each year, there are approximately 15,000 rescues. Since the organization started, there have been over 200,000 animals flown.

See the latest videos from the Solutionaries team now on YouTube.

Jo Brendel is a Wisconsin native and is associated with several animal rescues. She coordinates three to four flights a week. However, she points to a specific problem, and that’s the lack of spay and neuter.

“We need laws that are made and enforced, and they need spay and neuter laws. It has to stop. That’s the key to everything,” she said.

Several organizations point to the benefits of spay and neuter.

Brendel also helped Hamstra coordinate a rescue flight. She believes the organization is life-saving for animals at risk.

“If this puppy didn’t leave the shelter he was going to be killed. He was left on the side of the road from somebody, and he was lucky he wasn’t killed. The animal control officer picked him up, and Sharon with the shelter reached out to rescue, then they reached out to me, and I reached out pilots,” Brendel said.

Hamstra picked the puppy up in Groveton, Texas, from a rescue group, and flew puppy to a foster family in Georgetown, Texas.

“The people dropping the dog, they were very appreciative, because it’s a passion of theirs, then the people we dropped the dog off to. There’s always a way to help. No matter what your passion is, you can always use that to help to help someone or something,” he said.

Watch more Solutionaries stories exploring solutions for pet owners.

This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at SolutionariesNetwork.com.

About the Authors

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.

Recommended Videos