Pilots help pets find homes

Jonathan Rainey, Staff Writer

Mickie is a purebred German Shepherd who, during his short 12-month lifetime, has already had several close calls with death. But thanks to Pilots N Paws, Mickie got his own private plane ride to New York City on Saturday, Sept. 17. Upon reaching New York, he will go through rehab for a hurt leg and then be adopted by a loving family.

Pilots N Paws helps dogs, cats and other unfortunate animals that don’t have loving homes by linking private pilots from across the nation with overcrowded animal shelters.  If a home can be found for an animal in one such shelter, private pilots collaborate on the Pilots N Paws website to transport the animal to its new home – no matter the distance.

The Pilots N Paws event held in Florence was something special according to Jayne Boswell, director of the Florence Area Humane Society.

“One of the reasons behind [this event] was the incident in Chesterfield where the dogs were shot,” Boswell said. “They did this flight in memory of the Chesterfield 22.  It’s to honor those dogs who were needlessly killed.”

The animals that were flown out on Saturday only represent a small percentage of dogs and cats that need homes, but Boswell said that Pilots N Paws can help to raise awareness about the local animal overpopulation problem.

“I think it would be an awesome outcome of this event if people realize that animals don’t have a chance – they depend on humans,” Boswell said.

In South Carolina, animal overpopulation has reached the point that many dogs and cats have to be euthanized.

“Overpopulation of animals is at a critical point,” Boswell said. “We have never seen so many come into our shelter as we have [now]. . . . One thing we need to be cognizant of is our overpopulation of animals.  In other areas of the country they have put into place licensing laws and spay/neuter laws.”

Mark Hutto, one of the pilots who volunteered for the Pilots N Paws event in Florence, has also noticed the problem of dog and cat overpopulation in the South.

“I’ve noticed in the recent years there are a lot of shelters in the South that have an overabundance of animals, and they either put them down or try to get them adopted out,” Hutto said. “There seem to be more homes in the north than there are dogs and more dogs in the South than there are homes.”

Hutto joined Pilots N Paws in 2009 and has transported more than 60 dogs and even an American Bald Eagle in his ventures with the program.

Mickie was one example of the overpopulation problem before Deborah Pandis adopted him from a Columbia shelter.

“We suspect that he had been hit by a car,” Pandis said.  “He was not using his leg and was emaciated, and I got him the day he was scheduled to be euthanized.”

After Pandis decided to temporarily adopt Mickie, she thought that his injured leg would have to be amputated based on the veterinarian’s initial opinion.  But after getting a second opinion as well as some X-rays of Mickie’s leg, they decided that amputation would not be necessary – just some rehabilitation.

The rehab that Pandis chose for Mickie is called Water4Dogs in New York.

“I found a wonderful facility in New York City – a state of the art rehab facility… which uses underwater treadmills and aqua therapy to help Mickie regain full use of his leg,” Pandis said.

Pandis had a bittersweet parting with her German Shepherd on Saturday as Mickie flew north toward his new home.