CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF!
Updated: Jul 7
The most frequently asked question I receive is “How did you get started flying shelter pets to safety?” In order to answer this question thoroughly, I have to take you all back to 4-year-old Julian.
Here are two facts about 4-year-old me. One, I was obsessed with all things aviation and implored my parents to obtain tower clearance for pushback and takeoff prior to leaving the driveway. Two, I was crazy for dogs. I went up to pet every dog I saw and incessantly asked my parents if we could have a dog; I think at times my parents wanted to leash me in case I saw a dog across the street and decided to bolt!
Fast forward to 12-year-old Julian, with every intention of starting flight training at 16 and becoming an airline pilot. This was the first time I learned that John Lennon was correct: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” My grandfather and my mom both fell ill and suddenly my world was turned upside down. Family became my priority and, even at that young age, I knew that being on the road, away from my family, 10-22 days per month (what it takes to be a pilot) was not an option for me.
Now you have the background, let’s get to the pet flying. Upon earning my Commercial Single-Engine Pilot’s Certificate at age 25, I realized that, although I wouldn’t fly for the airlines, I really wanted to bring meaning to flying. I looked for volunteer opportunities that would allow me to use my weekends off for flying and decided to give Pilots n Paws a shot. After my first flight transporting a 12-week-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever from San Jose to his new family in Orange County (which I will detail in a later blog post), I was hooked! Over the next 2 years I earned my Commercial Multi-Engine certificate, purchased a pressurized Cessna 414A, completed more than 50 missions rescuing more than 430 dogs and cats (and 1 goat). I went from flying 1 pet from San Jose – SoCal to flying 20-40 pets from Fresno to Portland, or Seattle or Calgary!
Throughout this 2-year-period of volunteering my weekends and aircraft, I spent considerable time speaking with the rescue partners and learning of the struggles they face. I learned that California shelters euthanize more than 300,000 pets per year. I learned that every year more dogs are born than get adopted. The most impactful thing I learned is that as soon as I boarded those 30 shelter pets into the aircraft and took off for the Pacific Northwest, more California homeless dogs immediately replaced them. I was sitting here, metaphorically, trying to empty the ocean one cup at a time and all-the-while the ice caps were still melting. I dreamed of making a greater difference in the lives of these pets, of fostering systemic change in the way our society viewed pets and their worth to us, of a world where every pet has the chance to know a loving home and no pet has to die alone in a shelter.
And to make this dream a reality for myself, for the rescue groups, and –most important–for the animals, I started Pet Rescue Pilots.
More on that to come! But for now, thank you for reading…over and out!