Volunteers and rescue dogs had bittersweet partings Saturday when 50 pilots flew nearly 300 four-legged passengers out of MidCoast Regional Airport. It was the largest animal-rescue operation in Liberty County, according to organizers.
“We came to Hinesville to rescue hundreds of pets that wound up in kill shelters,” said Debi Boies, Pilots N Paws co-founder and president. “These pilots are volunteering their time, volunteering their fuel.”
Pilots N Paws was founded in 2008 by Boies and pilot Jon Wehrenberg. The idea took off when Wehrenberg agreed to help Boies fly a rescued Doberman from Florida to South Carolina to save the dog’s life.
Saturday’s “Operation Special Delivery” at MidCoast was sponsored by Pilots N Paws, Animal Aid USA, M.O.M.S. Animal Rescue, Guardians of Rescue, Subaru of America, Petmate and the ASPCA.
Pilot Kevin Saunders and his wife, Susan, of Dawsonville have flown pets for Pilots N Paws several times. The Saunders cuddled a fuzzy Labrador-mix puppy before takeoff.
“We’re very fortunate to be able to do this,” Kevin Saunders said. The couple owns two dogs, one of them a rescue.
“We’d have a hundred of them if my wife would let us,” he said.
Saunders said he receives requests “almost every day” from the Pilots N Paws website that matches pilots with flyway events.
“Normally, the minute after you start your engine, the animals go to sleep,” he said. “They sleep almost the whole way.”
Kathleen Quinn, Pilots N Paws executive director, said the organization counts on 3,500 volunteer pilots to help.
Boies said the dogs would be flown to adoption centers in other states, including Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and New Jersey. A convoy of vehicle drivers also arrived at the airport to help get dogs to new homes, she added.
“We emptied out the Fort Stewart shelter yesterday,” Boies said.
Some of those dogs will be trained as service or comfort dogs for injured veterans at Guardians of Rescue Paws of War, she said.
“For many soldiers, being deployed means leaving behind their beloved animal companions,” said Robert Misseri, founder and president of Guardians of Rescue. “Often times, when service members have no one to take care of their pets, they are left with the heartbreaking decision to turn them over to a shelter, never to see them again. We are ready to help rescue these dogs and place them with as many veterans as we can, to assist with their therapy.”
Guardians of Rescue initiated Paws of War after rescuing dogs from the Fort Bragg Animal Shelter.
More than 4 million unwanted pets are euthanized each year, according to Pilots N Paws. The organization maintains that 70 percent of dogs that enter shelters in the Southeast are euthanized. Boies said local governments would save money if they offered low-cost spay and neuter services, rather than incur the expense of euthanizing animals.
She urges residents to help care for abandoned pets, and to spread the message that the spaying and neutering of pets helps prevents overpopulation.
“You do not have to be a pilot to get involved (in pet rescue),” Boies said. “You can volunteer at your local shelter or volunteer to foster a rescue dog until they can be placed in a permanent home.”
Bob Devries of Hinesville was emotional when he bid farewell to Nala, a rescue dog he fostered after she was found in a ditch with her puppy near Claxton six weeks ago. Devries said Nala captured his heart, and he’d keep her if he didn’t already own multiple dogs.
“It’s really hard,” he said before Nala was put on a plane for Washington, D.C. “When we got her, she was really scared. I know she’ll be fine. She’s got a great personality ...”
Devries works with Carpathia Paws, a rescue organization. He said his employer, Paul Krebs Construction, has helped support Carpathia Paws.
In addition to the flyway, the Coastal Community Veterinary Clinic was unveiled at a banquet Friday. The spay and neuter mobile clinic is a joint venture of the Liberty Humane Shelter and M.O.M.S. Animal Rescue.
“They had the clinic, and we had somewhere to put it, and Dr. Rachel Peeples agreed to be the veterinarian for it and to supervise it,” Liberty Humane Shelter director Sandra Frye said.
She said the CCVC was established to meet a need in the community for low-cost spay and neuter services and routine care. The unit will be parked outside the shelter.
She stressed the mobile clinic is not equipped for emergencies, and pet owners must make appointments. Spay or neuter fees are $75 for dogs, $40 for cats. To make an appointment, call 912-448-2282.