Pilots to the Rescue help animals in need

Fuels |  4 min. read

Scarlett is alive today, thanks to an airplane. Also Andy, Sully and Rhett. And Jack, too, except he’s a red wolf.

Thanks to a 1977 Piper Lance, located at Caldwell Airport in New Jersey, a lot of dogs are alive today and in loving homes.

At the controls is Pilots to the Rescue, a team of volunteer pilots who fly dogs from shelters to forever homes.

Scarlett, Rhett, Sully and many others were dogs at shelters where they would have been euthanized if they stayed.  Rhett had been hit by a car and lost an eye.  Sully had a massive tumor on his side.

Some dogs had owners who just couldn’t take care of them anymore.  Some of the shelters just had too many dogs and couldn’t keep them all.  And unless something miraculous happened, all of those dogs were in danger.  But thanks to an airplane and some volunteer pilots, something miraculous did happen.

We talked recently with Michael Schneider, founder aka “Top Dog” of Pilots to the Rescue, and “co-pawlet” Daniel Baumel about those miracles.

Michael made his first rescue flight six years ago, flying a litter of puppies that had been dumped in a ditch, and then taken to a North Carolina shelter that couldn’t keep them.

“These animals know that they’re being rescued and coming from, most likely, horrendous conditions and they get excited about the trip.  Some of them are abused, and very shy. But by the end of the trip, their tails are wagging, and they are licking your face,” Michael told us.

That experience got him hooked, and led him to start Pilots to the Rescue.  Pilots now rescues about 250 dogs a year, flying two missions a month, mostly up and down the East Coast. And Pilots doesn’t just rescue any dogs, they rescue the dogs that are most in need of loving homes:  dogs with injuries, older dogs, dogs traumatized by abuse.

And all the animals they bring out of those shelters, find forever homes.

“Of course we love hearing about the dogs after they get adopted, and it’s just great to feel like you’ve made an impact in their lives.  We give them a life and a great family.  For example, we did a rescue with a bunch of hound puppies, and a couple who adopted one of them reached out to tell us how amazing it’s been, that they’ve loved seeing this dog grow up with them, in front of them,” Daniel told us.

In fact, by the time they land back in New Jersey, Michael and Daniel usually have at least one dog on every flight that they don’t want to give up.

“All the time,” Michael told us.  “In every flight there’s always a really sweet dog that I wish I could take home.  And I’ve always had rescue animals.  When I was a kid, I didn’t even know you could buy a dog.”

“I’ve had some cool moments,” said Daniel, “Where after a long day of flying, the last dog is really scared, cowering in its crate and I stay with the dog for a few minutes or so, and I just talk to it, get it comfortable enough to come out…I’ve had moments like that which are for me, extremely rewarding and beautiful to be a part of.”

(Each dog travels in a crate.  Except the 150-pound Malamute from Vermont.  Nobody makes a crate that size but we made sure he was safe and strapped in like a human.)

Michael and Daniel learn other things too on those flights.  About animals (dogs generally sleep on the plane and like to be all together), about flying (how to land in a snowstorm with limited visibility) and about yourself (like the time Daniel learned you shouldn’t drink coffee right before a flight.  Six-seaters like a Piper Lance don’t have a bathroom).

Oh, and Jack the red wolf.  Jack wasn’t personally in danger but his entire species was.  The red wolf was in danger of disappearing from life outside zoos.  So Pilots to the Rescue flew Jack out from North Carolina to a wolf conservancy in New York State where Jack became father to ten wolf pups (a big number at a time when there may have been fewer than 30 red wolves out in the wild).

They’ve flown cats also, a few times.  And sea turtles.  Once.  Mostly dogs though.

If you’re wondering, by the way, Michael says that filling up a plane isn’t all that different than filling up a car.

“Avgas” (aviation gasoline) is made from the same petroleum as the gas we use in our cars.  And at a small airport, the pilot pumps his or her own gas, just like we do (though it takes a little longer, since the plane has TWO fuel tanks, 98 gallons altogether).  But he did tell us you have to remember to watch the wing tips when you pull up to the pump (ok, that’s different).

And if you are a pilot who loves animals, and wants to become a rescue pilot. Or if you would like to support the work, from the ground, or you just like to look at pictures of dogs, check out Pilots to the Rescue.


That’s Michael on the right and Daniel on the left, with Elias Friedman, founder of The Dogist (in this case a human passenger) on a recent rescue trip.

Click here to read more about what’s new, what’s next and what it means for you.


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