Your connection with the sky

Flying for a Cause, Flying for the Paws

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.


12 Responses to “Flying for a Cause, Flying for the Paws”

  1. Thanks for your story, I knew that there was some organization for transporting dogs! I've just started flying and you have given me the perfect impetous to map out and pursue my training and subsequent flying: to be able to help rescue puppies and veterans!

  2. Kristen Seaman Says:
    February 7th, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Thanks for your reply, Jodi! It's great to hear about other people wanting to take part in such a great cause :) -Kristen

  3. Pam Peterson Says:
    February 7th, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I don't have my private pilot certificate yet but as an animal lover will keep this in mind when I complete my training. I'll also share with friends who love animals and are further along in flight training. Gives new meaning to "tailwind!" Thanks for getting involved.

  4. Hi Kristen,
    As I read your article I considered what I could do. I'm wondering if the pilot you flew with was instrument rated. Living in the south near Chattanooga, there is a lot of dreary weather, and I'm not instrument rated. Not sure how that would effect a planed flight.

  5. Robert Lampkin Says:
    February 8th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Perhaps you will consider joining us for the annual fly out. This year 115 pilots flew out over 300 animals from SC. A new world record. Congrats on your ticket and thanks for joining Pilots and Paws.

  6. John Worsley Says:
    February 11th, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for the article Kristen. I've been thinking about joining such an organization, since I fly my two dogs and have the perfect plane for this. I'm curious, though, if Pilots N Paws or some other organization also takes cats.

    BTW, you're at least as cute as the "puppies". :-)

  7. Kristen Seaman Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Bryan - Yes, the pilot I flew with was instrument rated. However, that doesn't mean that we would want to risk flying into possible hazardous conditions. Just like any other flight, you need to weigh the importance of the mission against the importance of your safety. Had the weather not been ideal, we would have delayed. Most of the shelters who are coordinating these efforts have backup housing on hand for these situations. Thanks for your reply!

  8. Kristen Seaman Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Robert - I looked up the annual fly-out. It seems great and something I'd love to take part in. Have they arranged the next one yet? Thanks!

  9. Kristen Seaman Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for your response, Pam! It's been very rewarding.

  10. Kristen Seaman Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    John - Yes, the organization provides flights for many different types of animals. I just happened to be partial to dogs and allergic to cats :) And thanks for the compliment!

  11. Wow, this was a great read! I think it is wonderful that you fly for animals. I am also a huge dog fan. I have never heard of Pilots N Paws before. I am smitten with this organization, I wish I was a pilot now. Do you know if they accept donations?
    Thanks so much for sharing, I really enjoyed this post.

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