Volunteers pilot dogs to new homes

Posted February 4, 2010 4:42 p.m. EST
Updated February 4, 2010 6:31 p.m. EST

— A nonprofit organization is helping rescue pets and find them new homes – then flying them to those families wherever they are in the United States.

Pilots N Paws flew two Labrador retrievers – Mitch and Branson – from the Johnston Animal County Shelter to their new home in New Hampshire on Thursday.

Two-year-old Mitch waited eagerly for the plane at the Johnston County Airport. "Branson is very, very playful, and he is ready to go," Pilots N Paws volunteer Joy Frannicola said.

Without a new home, the dogs might have ended up being put down at the Johnston County Animal Shelter.

"It's always 50-50 for each dog, really, due to the overcrowding, the high numbers" of animals, said Lisa Carlson, adoption coordinator for Johnston County Animal Services.

Before that happened, though, Pilots N Paws got involved. The group had found it frustrating connecting adoptable animals with potential homes.

"We had been going crazy trying to get dogs to their homes by using ground transport. That takes forever," Frannicola said.

So, the nonprofit decided to take to the air. It helps find pilots who will volunteer their time and planes to get animals – cats, along with dogs – from shelters across the country to adoptive homes. The planes are usually small, single-engine props, with barely enough room for humans and animals.

"It's very rewarding to see when you get them to your final destination," volunteer pilot Rudy Holesek said. "The family is as happy as can be. It's like Christmas Day every time you deliver one."

Holesek flew from Long Island to pick up Mitch and Branson. They were to fly from Smithfield to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., then to Keene, New Hampshire, a 2½-hour journey. By evening, they will be with their new family.

"We couldn't do this without these pilots. We can get more dogs adopted by them doing this," Frannicola said.

"There's no other word for them: They are truly angels," Carlson said.