Pilots N Paws Sets Goal To Recruit 10,000 Pilots

Pilots N Paws
Actor and pilot Aaron O’Connell ready to depart with Delilah from Santa Monica to Paso Robles, California, to avoid the pet’s euthanization.
Credit: Adam Moussa

For those in the aviation community who haven’t heard of Pilots N Paws, the organization could provide a great opportunity for pilots to attain hours, keep on top of their proficiency, or simply have fun while serving a good cause. 

Pilots N Paws, a 501 c3 non-profit organization, started  15 years ago as a meeting place for those who rescue, shelter or foster animals using volunteer pilots willing to assist in their transportation. 

The organization has about 6,000 pilots on its roster located in all 50 states. It is making efforts to increase that number to 10,000 through the expansion of its network of partnerships.

In 2022, Pilots N Paws established partnerships with Cirrus Aircraft and Sheltair, the FBO network. Cirrus has assisted with donations and advertising to increase the organization’s pilot population, while Sheltair is offering any Pilots N Paws registered pilots one dollar off per gallon of Avgas at any of its FBO facilities when flying an animal rescue mission. 

One volunteer pilot is actor, model and Cirrus Aircraft owner Aaron O’Connell. O’Connell has flown rescue missions with the organization for many years. He mentions the benefits that extend beyond the overarching accomplishment of saving an animal’s life. 

“Anytime I get the opportunity to team up with Pilots n’ Paws, I jump at it because there’s no better feeling than going to bed at night knowing I saved the life of an innocent animal while doing something I love,” O’Connell says. 

Before joining the program, like many general aviation pilots, O’Connell was flying cross-country trips, filling up his tank at the destination, and leaving. The introduction of Pilots N Paws brought further purpose to these flights, whether by having the opportunity to fly to new airports or becoming connected to a new network of aviators. 

Many Pilots N Paws missions are flown in a “relay race” style, where one pilot who is located near an animal’s departure location flies the first leg of a mission and meets another pilot along the way. The animal or animals act as the baton until the final destination is reached. Coordination between pilots and those seeking transportation is done through the Pilots N Paws forum board, where each request has a discussion thread. There is also a map on its website outlining requested routes. 

With more than 12,000 rescuers signed up on the website, trip requests come online daily. It is not challenging for pilots in large metropolitan areas to find trips. O’Connell mentions he tries to fly a mission once every couple of weeks, and usually his callout time is about one week give or take. 

“About two million animals are euthanized in the U.S. every year, quite often because they’re in areas of the country where there are more homeless animals than adoptive homes,” says Kate Quinn, Pilots N Paws executive director. “Pilots N Paws exists to provide free flights to animals in need of transport to new homes, thus widening the field of where adoptions can take place. For example, a puppy in a shelter in Georgia might never be adopted locally, but if pilots fly him to Washington D.C., he might be adopted very quickly.”

As a further incentive to recruit more pilots Quinn mentioned that all expenses a pilot incurs from missions are tax deductible. The organization also welcomes student pilots to take on the flights with their certified flight instructors (CFIs) as an idea to not only fill the great demand for transport but to also expose more students to the joys of flying and continue forward with their training. 

To learn more, visit the Pilots N Paws website, where volunteering as a pilot takes about a minute. Updates can also be found on the @pilotsnpaws Instagram page.