KidsPost: Pilots N Paws volunteers fly dogs, other animals to adoption shelters

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lady Di, a lovely purebred collie with a sweet personality, was stuck at a shelter in Alabama that was so crowded there was almost no hope she would be adopted. But unlike many animals in that unfortunate situation, Lady Di got a lucky ticket out.

Workers at the Montgomery, Alabama, shelter knew some of their dogs had a better chance of being adopted in another city. So Lady Di, her puppy and a dozen other dogs were handed over to pilot Jeff Bennett. He is a volunteer with Pilots N Paws, a group that moves pets from overwhelmed shelters to those that offer a better chance of adoption. The pilots donate their time, planes and fuel.

Bennett, 50, is a retired Florida businessman with a soft spot for dogs.

The rescue of Lady Di brought the number of animals he has saved to 124 since he began his rescue flights about a year ago. He has flown snakes, lizards, a chicken and a potbellied pig.

"It's a great feeling to know that you're saving some animals and hopefully finding some good homes for them," says Bennett, noting that millions of dogs and cats are euthanized, or put to death painlessly, in U.S. shelters each year.

Shelters and rescue groups can connect with pilots on the Pilots N Paws Web site. Co-founder Debi Boies says more than 680 pilots have flown thousands of animals all across the country.

On Bennett's recent two-hour flight from Montgomery to Tampa, Florida, he carried 14 dogs in six crates stacked into a cargo area no bigger than the back of a Honda Civic.

"They're a little anxious to start, but once you fire up the engine and start taxiing, a lot of times they settle down," he says.

Once in Tampa, volunteers with four rescue groups were waiting.

Lady Di and her pup got a ride to a foster home, and volunteers are looking for a good home for her.

"She was sweet but didn't have much personality," says Gisele Veilleux, who is keeping the dogs for now. "I don't think she's had that much human contact. She had no joy in her eyes. She's getting that joy now."

-- Staff and wire reports

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