Interview with Debi Bois, founder of Pilots N Paws

Pilots N Paws is a non-profit organization that provides a meeting point for those interested in rescuing animals and for pilots or plane owners willing to help. When we heard about this innovative way of mixing animals and flying, we immediately wanted to know more about their work.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how did you come up with Pilots N Paws’ idea?

I have always had a deep connection with animals. I am a retired nurse, have raised Morgan Horses for 25 years, and share my life with my wonderful husband, two Dobermans, one Lhasa Apso who definitely rules, and of course our barn kitties. Prior to Pilots N Paws, I was one of the founding members of a rescue organization known as Doberman Assistance Network, a national Doberman rescue group. When we lost our 12 year old Doberman to cancer, we wanted our next dobie family member to be a rescue dog. The perfect dog for our family ended up being in Florida and we are in South Carolina. Due to his condition, we knew he was used as a sparring partner to teach other dogs how to fight. We had to bring him home, of that, there was no question. I asked a group of friends if anyone was traveling my direction from Florida. Our friend in Tennesse who is a pilot with a private plane replied that he would just fly over, pick up my husband and fly to Florida and bring our boy home to us. I was astounded at his generous offer. After the flight he asked if there was a need to move rescue animals. After sharing the trials of ground transportation, the only means available to rescue groups to move these animals , he agreed that we needed to do something. I knew rescue work, he knew pilots and told me that they are always looking for a good reason to fly. What better reason then to save a life? The name Pilots N Paws immediately came to my mind and with that, the program literally took flight. I feel strongly that it is our responsibility, as humans, to be the guardians for animals others have abandoned, abused, or simply can no longer care for. If we don’t, who will?

What are Pilots N Paws main points?

Our Public Service Announcement says it best: “Four million former pets are euthanized in the United States every year. They’re killed because they don’t have homes. Pilots N Paws is a national charity helping to change that. Working with rescue groups across the country, pilots donate their time, their planes, and their fuel, to transport animals to places where they will be adopted. These rescues happen because spay/neuter programs in some parts of our country are working – making room for the homeless from other areas. Pilots N Paws facilitates rescue transport – airlifting domestic pets – to new lives. It’s the goal of Pilots N Paws to make transport available for all rescued animals that have homes waiting for them – no matter where those homes are”. It is our intention to go beyond just the transport of these animals in need. We are interested in pursuing educational platforms to teach others about this problem and also to create a mobile spay and neuter clinic that would be free to those who need it for their animals.

How many estimated animals have you guys saved so far?

Due to the way Pilots N Paws operates by providing an online platform for pilots and rescues to connect directly, we can only give an estimate of the number of animals saved. It is in the thousands. One pilot alone recently passed the 1,000 animals transported mark by himself. With over 2100 pilots registered with Pilots N Paws, the number is indeed in the thousands.

What kind of volunteers does Pilots N Paws have? How do you recruit them?

Pilots N Paws has volunteers who are of course pilots, but others who have an interest in animal welfare. Over 10,000 registered users are on the working forum board of our website. We work with social media and the internet primarily. The rescue animal networks are far reaching and prolific in spreading the word. We attend specific aviation events in order to get our message to general aviation pilots. Once they are aware of the need, they readily engage in the program.

Does Pilots N Paws have its own fleet or the volunteers use their own planes?

All pilots either own their own planes or have access to a plane. 100% of the rental fee for a plane is tax deductible in the U.S. due to the fact that we are a 501c3 non-profit organization. General Aviation pilots (non-commercial) are not permitted to receive any monetary compensation for their flights according to our FAA regulations. They volunteer their time and their resources to make these life saving flights. The upside for these pilots, expense wise, is that portions of their flights are tax deductible due to our 501c3 status. The FAA legal counsel has also issued us a specific letter stating our flights are considered “Humanitarian”.

How do you organize an animal rescue or transportation?

Pilots and rescues work together directly to organize their flights via our forum board. Rescues register and post their requests on the “Ride Board:Animals Needing Transport”. Pilots are notified with an automatic email that there is a request in there are. Due to the fact that every pilot has a specific set of weather conditions they can fly under, they are in charge of choosing the day, time, sending and receiving locations. Rescues understand the gift they are being given and work with the pilots to accommodate their schedules. It is truly the best of humanity working together.

We suppose that most of the times you guys can feel the gratitude in the animal’s’ eyes. What’s the moment you’ve been most proud of being part of Pilots N Paws?

Every time an animal is saved from euthanasia, an abusive situation, or any other hardship they encounter has and continues to be my proudest moment. Somehow, these animals know we are here to help them and it is true, there is nothing quite like the shining light in the eyes of an animal who has just felt a kind hand.

What do you think is the cause of such animal overpopulation? Are there any solutions that might be applied to solve this problem?

The cause of animal overpopulation is simple–people do not alter their pets. There are specific areas of the country where overpopulation abounds. In these areas you will generally find people who have lower incomes and perhaps are not aware of the low cost spay/neuter clinics available. Invariably there will be people who are aware and simply refuse to “do that to their male dog”. I have personally seen that having mobile spay and neuter clinics that travel to outlying rural areas does make a difference. This includes trapping feral cats, altering them, and returning them to their colonies. Education is always the key, in my opinion. Start teaching our children responsible pet care in schools and change the mindset. We each have the power to eliminate the problem of overcrowding, let’s do it!

Are there any other events, besides the transportations, that you’re involved with?

Each year Pilots N Paws holds a large scale awareness event in a specific location. The locations are chosen by the tremendous need to move animals out of that area and to educate. Normally we move almost 200 animals in one day on numerous planes. We are involved with various media publications , have been highlighted on all major news networks, participated in two shows for Animal Planet, and continue to educate wherever possible. We are extremely fortunate to have the support of our sponsors, Subaru Inc and Petmate. We do combined events with them, once again to bring awareness and educate.

We suppose that the great work Pilots N Paws does must have many supporters and sponsors. Can you tell us about them and how they help Pilots N Paws being a reality?

Public support for our organization is phenomenal. We are extremely grateful for those who support us not only with donations, but with their kind words. For the past two years, we have been partners with Subaru and Petmate. Both companies are essential to our growth. Petmate provides all crates, harnesses, collars, leashes for use by our pilots at no cost to them which is extremely beneficial. Subaru is a progressive philanthropic company giving us support at events, with the production of our website, providing promotional material and a list of countless other provisions. We are very fortunate to be proud partners with both.

We’ve heard that Scott Messinger have helped with the rescue of more than a thousand animals. It sounds like a very committed individual, almost a “superhero”. What can you tell us about him?

Scott is all about helping as many animals as possible. It is his goal to “give back” and he is doing so in a very profound way. He is not a person who expects accolades; he flies these animals because it is his passion. I find that “passion” is a common trait with all involved with Pilots N Paws. Scott is phenomenal, just a fabulous caring person who is out to make a difference.

You can help them here: http://pilotsnpaws.org/donate 

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