Pilots N Paws Matches Volunteer Pilots with Animal Rescuers

The nonprofit group Pilots N Paws saves animals' lives by transporting them cross-country to new foster homes.

John Quimby, an IBM executive from West Chester, Ohio, has been a recreational pilot for years. He always used to feel like his hobby was a wasteful pursuit. “Nowadays, there’s simply no justification for the expense. People refer to this pastime as the hundred-dollar hamburger syndrome — flying somewhere to have a hamburger and returning home,” he told MSNBC.

But for several years, Quimby has been using his pilot’s license for a good cause: airlifting animals in need of good homes. He’s one of 2,000 recreational pilots registered with a non-profit organization called Pilots N Paws, which was launched in 2007 by animal rescuer Debi Boies and her friend Jon Wehrenberg, a recreational pilot.

Boies came up with the concept after telling Wehrenberg that she wanted to adopt a Doberman who had been used in a dog-fighting ring, but was living several states away. Wehrenberg offered to fly her to Florida to collect the dog and bring him home.

“I was flabbergasted and in awe that anyone would make such a generous offer,” said Boies. “But I soon learned that recreational pilots are as passionate about flying as animal people are about rescuing pets. And, since pilots are always looking for reasons to fly, introducing them to animal rescuers seemed like a perfect match.”

Quimby jumped on board as soon as he heard about the organization, as did his two sons, Ethan, 13, and Aidan, 11. Though the boys can’t fly the plane, they often climb aboard with their father and help keep the animals calm. One dog, in particular, made a big impression.

On the family’s first rescue flight, the dogs being transported were frightened. “I helped walk them before they boarded, made sure they weren’t thirsty and sat and played them throughout the journey to calm them down,” said Ethan. “One of them was so special. I couldn’t bear the idea of her having to go into foster care and possibly wait months before being adopted, so I asked my Dad if we could adopt her.”

That dog, Marcie, is part of their family now. And while they can’t adopt all of the animals they transport, the Quimby family and the other volunteer pilots have helped hundreds of pets who might have otherwise been euthanized find their forever homes throughout America.

And Quimby doesn’t need to feel bad about flying anymore. “These animal rescue flights have given me a purpose and a very good reason to fuel up my plane and go somewhere every weekend,” he says.