By the wings of angels

September 14, 2009 by Chris O'Callaghan, Vice President AOPA ePublishing

At Sun N Fun this past Spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Jon Wehrenberg and Debi Boies, co-founders of Pilots N Paws, an organization dedicated to rescuing unwanted pets from euthanasia.

Jon and Debi are like many dedicated to a cause: they are engaging, focused, and intensely driven to succeed. At their core is a profound respect and empathy for the lives of animals – bred to serve human needs – then discarded when they are no longer wanted, useful, or convenient.

Sadly, thousands of discarded pets die needlessly. In many areas around the country, shelters have more demand than animals. So when Jon and Debi asked whether I thought it would be possible to enlist enough pilots to relocate 5,000 pets in a single week, I answered “Yes.”

I like bold statements and audacious plans. In the hands of dedicated people, they extend not only our reach, but our grasp. Success, to my way of thinking, is equally a product of the effort – as well as achieving a lofty goal.

I don’t think my confidence was unwarranted. Pilots are mission-centric. We like planning, enjoy the challenge of navigating the “fog” of implementation, and take keen satisfaction in a positive outcome.

What I didn’t count on was an objection that Jon and Debi hear often – “What about people? Aren’t people more important?” In a word, the answer is “Yes.” But for most of us, transporting the critically ill on schedule to distant medical services simply isn’t an option. The reasons are many – suitable aircraft, appropriate insurance, required ratings… Relocating a pet, on the other hand, can wait on VFR weather, an empty seat or baggage compartment, and a willingness to fly a few hours – for which the majority of us are eminently well-qualified.

For those blessed with the means, we can and should volunteer our time and resources to the service of people in need. And for those of us with more humble blessings, let me suggest that we can also serve people in need. Pets improve our quality of life. The special kinship they provide is unique. Their health benefits are well-documented in the language of science, by our joy in their companionship, and our tears with their passing.

A few hours of flying can deliver so much… a life well-lived for so many.

Visit for more information about how you can help save lives.

One Response to “By the wings of angels”

  1. Parth Says:

    I am delighted that AOPA is using their media expertise to promote Pilots n Paws. An event like this goes a long way to promote the positive impression of GA.

    If not planning already, can AOPA go one step further and help quantify and promote the overall success of this event?

    Today I flew 4.1 hours total transporting a wonderful black lab from southern IL to Madison WI on my third PnP trip. Using a base rate of $140/hr for a Piper Arrow, the cost was $578 flying approx. 400 mn. If there were 5K missions like this (which I think is the average), GA pilots would have flown a total of 2 million miles at $3M of their own cost for this worthy cause.

    Would not make this a great story? And to pre-empt the question – no, given all the threats and poor perception GA is facing I am not ashamed to beat our own chest saying we contribute to the good of society in this manner.

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