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In 2008, a simple idea was conceived and put into action by Debi Boies, a retired nurse, and John, a former commercial airlines pilot. Both had a strong desire to help animals and saw a need they felt they could address. “I probably, if you would ask my mother, have been rescuing animals since I was old enough to walk,” says Debi.
“She told these stories about how she was always worried that I was gonna get scratched or bit or whatever when we were out because I would always go up to any animal. I just wouldn’t even think twice about it. That was for my earliest conscious memory, so I always had a great affinity towards animals.”
Before Pilots N Paws, Debi was one of the founding members of a group called Doberman Assistant Network, a purebred rescue group. “We decided to form a group that really would monitor all these shelters nationally and then work with formalized hands-on Doberman rescue groups and we reached out to them and arranged transport if they would accept them into their program.
“I was the intake coordinator for two years with that group along with a board of directors member and when Pilots N Paws came about, it came through my adoption of a Doberman which was out of state for me.
“He was a dog fighting training dog; all the points of his teeth were filed off, he has little white hair scars all over his head from where he was bit, he has a long scar down his back but he is the most kind, sweet-natured, loving dog you can ever imagine.” Deciding to adopt him was easy enough but then came the logistics of it.
“When that came about, I needed to get him here! I live in South Carolina and he was in Florida.” Debi explains that despite the incredible work of the ‘Road Warriors’ who help make ground transport possible, it is a long, stressful and often dangerous travel for an animal because of the many changing hands.
“So I put the word out to a group of our friends and a good friend of ours in Tennessee wrote back and said ‘hey Debi, how about I just fly down and pick him up and bring him to you?’ And I thought that was the most generous offer I’d ever heard, I said ‘Are you sure John?’ and he said ‘Oh yes, pilots love to fly’.”
When John returned, he and Debi got to talk about the transport issues the rescuers were facing and that was the spark. “John and I decided to start Pilots N Paws, right then and there. We saw the need and he knew the pilot side of it and I knew the rescue side of it and so the two of us joined hands and here we are today.”
At a glance, the Pilots N Paws initiative seems like novelty work for retired pilots and hobby flyers who can combine their love for the sky with a love for animals. However, talking to Debi, the underlining problem is a general overpopulation of pets in the United States.
“I get that question frequently, ‘Why do the animals need to be moved?’ and I explain the situation of overcrowding, shelters particularly in certain states, normally the South, other pocket areas in Texas and in L.A., where the shelters are overrun by animals and people do not neuter or alter their pets in any way, shape or form.
“Hence the problem of overcrowding and the extreme rates of euthanasia. Around 76.000 animals a week are euthanized in this country and that is not acceptable.” The reasons why the problem is most widespread in the Southern states varies says Debi, but it is basically down to culture, lack of education on the subject and simply not knowing the alternatives to putting the unwanted pet down.
In comes Pilots N Paws. “Pilots N Paws is more than just our pilots transport, we try to bring awareness, we have large scale awareness events every year and education is a big goal of ours, to educate the public and let them know.” Many are unaware about the overpopulation of pets and the conditions of which unwanted pets are found before going to shelters: temporary homes which could end up being their last.
Image Courtesy of Pilots N Paws