Knox pilot's non-profit flies nationwide to save homeless pets

Knoxville pilot's non-profit flies nationwide to save homeless pets

Updated:
Organizers say the dogs they help make the team effort so worthwhile. Organizers say the dogs they help make the team effort so worthwhile.
Frannie seemed to love the view from the plane. Frannie seemed to love the view from the plane.
After two hours and 10 minutes in the air, we landed in Martinsburg, West Virginia. After two hours and 10 minutes in the air, we landed in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It's a life or death mission, and local pilots are stepping up to help. They donate their time, skills and money, hundreds of dollars in fuel for just one flight, to give a dog or cat a last chance to find a home.

We tagged along with Pilots N Paws, a national non-profit co-founded by a Knoxville pilot, that's dedicated to saving one animal at a time.

It was a beautiful day at Downtown Island Airport when Knoxville pilot Chris Pease met his passengers for the first time. Three of the flyers, Reba, Rita and Randy, are from the Tennessee Pekingese Rescue.

"These three dogs were confiscated from an abuse and neglect situation in Roane County," said rescue volunteer Jackie Wagoner. 

The fourth, Frannie, came from the Cumberland County Animal Shelter.

"She's five years old. She's house-trained. She's wonderful, and somebody just dumped her," said Jackie Baker, with Wags and Whiskers - Spay/Neuter Advocates in Crossville.

They make the team effort so worthwhile.

Reba, Rita, Randy and Frannie are the lucky ones. They're headed up north to a shelter in Connecticut. Strictly enforced pet laws there mean very few unwanted animals and space to give these Southern dogs a second chance at life.

"They're a blessing. We've got to get ahead of it with spay and neuter so that we quit creating a problem and asking them to solve it for us, but in the meantime, this saves lives," Wagoner said. 

South Carolina animal rescuer Debi Boies and Knoxville pilot Jon Wehrenberg started Pilots N Paws in 2007. It began when Wehrenberg offered to fly to Florida to pick up a Doberman that Boies wanted to adopt.

"When he returned, he posed the question to me, 'Is there a need for this? Do you need to move animals through animal rescue work?' And I said you have no idea, Jon," Boies recalled.

Now there are Pilots N Paws flights all over the country every week. Rescue groups post a needed trip and an available pilot responds.

There are many more requests than people to fill them because the pilots aren't allowed to take payment for their services under FAA rules. "It's incredible. That these guys do this is just unbelievable," Baker said.

Once the precious cargo was loaded for the flight from Downtown Island, Pease started the engine and we took off. Despite all the noise and the altitude changes, the dogs were quiet in their crates.

"It just really hurts my heart to know how many do get put down," Pease said.

In the last few years, he has completed more than 20 missions for Pilots N Paws. "Flying is wonderful and helping out the animals is even more wonderful," he said.

His experience shows. The flight was smooth and we decided to let Frannie out of her crate for a minute so she could enjoy the view. She seemed to love it.

After two hours and 10 minutes in the air, we landed in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where we met with Pennsylvania pilot Jeff Luizza. He and his co-pilot will fly the dogs to their final destination - Danbury, Connecticut.

"If it wasn't for us, the dogs would be put down so we try to do as many as we can," Luizza said.

The dogs got a quick water and potty break, then they were loaded onto Luizza's plane. 

An hour and 20 minutes later, Reba, Rita, Randy and Frannie landed in Connecticut, where staff at the Danbury Animal Welfare Society (DAWS) said they'll likely find their forever homes within a couple of weeks.

"We just cannot send enough head bonks and wet nose kisses to Pilots N Paws for all they do. They make our job easier and really just save a lot of lives," said DAWS President Cheryl Rykowski.

Randy was adopted quickly in his new location.

If you'd like to help Pilots N paws, information is available for pilots and volunteers.

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