The Incredible Journeys

Pilots N Paws volunteers deliver pets to loving homes

By Tim Anderl

Though a routine flight to a destination a few hours from home doesn’t create much trepidation for a seasoned pilot like Michael Green, the trip may be a matter of life and death for his passengers.  Green often flies volunteer missions for Pilots N Paws, an organization that pairs pilots with dogs, cats, pigs and even reptiles that are travelling from shelters and rescues to their new homes in other parts of the country.

Pet overpopulation continues to be a problem in the United States, and each year millions of no-longer-wanted pets are euthanized.  Though spaying and neutering animals have decreased the domestic pet populations in some areas, the suffering economy, high unemployment and natural disasters have forced some owners to abandon their pets.  In fact, in the southern United States, about 70 percent of dogs that enter shelters are euthanized.

Caroline Marino works with a number of regional and national pointer rescues to find foster homes and coordinate transportation for dogs. Marino was introduced to PNP by a friend who was also working to rescue pets in June 2009.

“Rescues working with Pilots N Paws often work against the clock to save animals and having a pilot available to transport to partner rescues across multiple states can make all the difference,” Marino said.

“The world of rescue is quite small in the sense that we tend to be a very connected group of people,” Marino explained.  “The mission for most rescues is twofold: to successfully place homeless dogs and cats into loving and permanent homes, and to educate the public on the importance of spaying and neutering to help decrease overpopulation.

“Pilots N Paws has had a tremendous impact on rescue,” Marino added. “There are a percentage of rescued animals, which for various reasons may not be good candidates for long-distance road transports. Pilots N Paws is opening doors for these animals to find rescue options across multiple states. For the animals being helped, this means everything.

According to Dayton-based volunteer Michael Green, the PNP website is intended to be a meeting place for those who rescue, shelter or foster animals and pilots and plane owners willing to assist with the transportation of animals. The organization provides the environment in which those involved can come together in a common place and arrange or schedule rescue flights, overnight foster care or shelter and all other related activities. To date, the organization has over 2,000 pilot volunteers and over 8,000 volunteers total.

Through the discussion board, those involved can exchange information about transports publicly so that they can set up an entire transport and share all information necessary to successfully accomplish the goal, but also allow others to volunteer their efforts if they see help is needed to save animals.

According to Green, some pilots will take short trips to other cities for a meal as an excuse to be in the air, a phenomenon he calls the “$100 hamburger.” Green began his tenure with the organization as an excuse to get some flight time while doing something more rewarding than chasing burgers.

“I was new to the area and was taking a trip to Cleveland, so I asked a pilot where a good place to land would be and he told me that if I was headed north that there was a dog that needed to go there. He sent me to the Pilots N Paws website, and I started frequenting it,” Green said.

Since then, Green has completed dozens of flights for PNP over the last two years.

“Sometimes the dogs are nervous or skittish, I think mostly because they’re meeting new people,” Green added. “When the engine starts they calm down a lot.  I think they realize they’re going somewhere and it has got to be a better place.”

As a result of their volunteerism with the organization, both Marino and Green have dozens of success stories. Green’s dog Coco, an 11-year-old Labrador retriever with hip dysplasia, was a dog that he picked up during a trip. Marino told an especially heartfelt tale about the rescue of Lizzy, a pregnant pointer.

“Someone involved with rescue was contacted by a private individual from the Tulsa, Okla. area. Her son had found an English pointer wandering on a rural road on a sweltering day and had brought her home,” Marino recalled.  “Shortly after, they realized she was pregnant and decided to keep her until she could safely complete her pregnancy.”

“It wasn’t long however until she would give birth to nine healthy pups,” Marino continued.  “The national pointer rescue agreed to bring them into their program provided a foster home could be found. One of their new foster homes located here in Ohio quickly stepped up to the plate and with the help of Pilots N Paws and two veteran pilots, we were able to safely move the family from Tulsa to Columbus in under eight hours.”

According to Marino, not only were Lizzy and her puppies rescued, but a young boxer who had been saved from a Tulsa shelter and was coming to a boxer rescue in Dayton was along for the ride.  A total of 11 dogs were saved that day and all were adopted by loving families.

There are occasionally some hazards of the task, Green admitted.

“We had four puppies going to Detroit last February and we had to fly up there with one window open and the other cracked because the puppies had such bad gas.  We were freezing, but between the expanding puppy stomachs from the altitude and the puppy food, they smelled horrible!”

For more information about Pilots N Paws, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at

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