When I tell someone I’m a pilot now, I get so many different reactions. The most common is “Awesome! Who do you fly for?” I always have this feeling that they’re slightly disappointed to learn the small scale on which I fly. Now, I don’t have anything against commercial pilots, but I have no plans now or in the future to pursue a job with the airlines. Being a commercial pilot is a career move, and that is just not in line with my goals. However, please don’t actually ask me what I want to be when I grow up, because I’m still not sure. I love flying and I love the flexibility of doing it on my own schedule. But I also love my job, and being able to fly as little or as much as I want to outside of that is perfect for me.
You know what I love just about as much as flying, if not more? PUPPIES! There is no denying that I have a weak spot for animals, especially dogs. Kittens are also acceptable.
Anyway, I have done a lot of thinking about what my goals as a pilot are. In my last post, I provided an extensive To Do list of additional training that I want to complete. But I don’t plan on spending my entire piloting “side-career” training or flying to lunch. I want to do something, and not for myself, but others. I’ve been granted this wonderful gift, and I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it than giving back.
At AOPA Summit in October, I met the cutest puppy in the whole world at the Pilots N Paws booth. I instantly fell in love. I was just a student pilot back then—about two months away from my checkride. They asked whether I wanted to get involved and I just kind of looked down and said, “…well, I’d love to, but I’m not a pilot yet.” They were extremely encouraging and gave me a brochure to read over and consider.
Last Friday, I unpacked a box of materials from Summit (can you say procrastinator??) and pulled out the brochure. I decided right then that I was going to get involved and begin contributing to this amazing organization. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Pilots N Paws, they are a non-profit organization and maintain a website that serves as a meeting place for those that rescue, shelter, or foster animals, as well as pilots and aircraft owners that can help with the transportation. Many of the animals that are transported in this program have been abused or are at risk for being euthanized, and the pilots carry them to a new location where they can be placed in loving homes. They have a message board where all of the coordinating is done between the volunteers.
I started poking around on the site and then remembered that a coworker, who also owns a Piper Arrow, is a regular contributor on missions. After chatting with him for about ten minutes, I asked him to consider bringing a copilot on his next mission. Coincidentally, he had one scheduled for that Sunday. I told him I was definitely in.
We were slated to transport four puppies (to me, all dogs are puppies, and they will henceforth be referred to as such) to Schenectady, NY. Their day had actually started in Knoxville, TN. Dan and Ann were 4 month old beagle/hound mixes, Clair was a 1 year old Aussie, and Zeus was a 3 month old Catahoula. It would be the third and final leg of the day, so I’m sure the initial excitement had worn off by the time we got them. They were very energetic puppies and didn’t seem too keen on going back in the crate, but we managed to get them in.
We flew a DA-40, so space was limited. I’m working on getting checked out in this plane, so aside from the takeoffs and landings, I stayed on the controls. The flight was beautiful and completely silent for two full hours. All four puppies had fallen asleep.
When we arrived at Schenectady, the shelter volunteers enthusiastically bolted out of the FBO to greet us (ok – they were probably more interested in the puppies). They loved them as much as we did, and I was sad to think about parting with them after sharing this experience. However, I knew that they would be going to good, loving homes. After meeting these sweet puppies, it was unfathomable to even think about their fate had they remained in Knoxville. For instance, I learned that Clair was found in a burlap sack with her puppies. Even still, she is one of the most gentle and sweet animals that I have ever met, and the family that adopts her is going to love her.
I’ve been searching a long time for a volunteer opportunity that is fulfilling and fun at the same time, and I couldn’t think of a better combination of those than flying animals in need. As I gain more experience, I’d like to expand my contributions to include flying wounded warriors or those in medical need. Those organizations require (for good reason) quite a bit more experience and have more stringent requirements. It might motivate me to actually get my commercial pilot certificate, because that will even further enhance my skills and ability to take part in more missions. In the meantime, I’m going to start looking for additional Pilots N Paws missions that are on a smaller scale and possibly more local while I’m getting my feet wet.
And now when people ask who I fly for, I can tell them that I fly for animals in need— an answer that I’m proud of and should still manage to impress them.