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“No Dog Left Behind” – Pilot Committed To Save Animals’ Lives

(K-LOVE Closer Look) –  Co-pilots Jon Plesset and his good friend, Brad Childs, fly single-engine planes based out of Pittsburgh, PA.

Their passengers? Dogs. These four-legged friends are rescue dogs and Jon and Brad are helping them to find forever homes.

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Jon Plesset of Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team (PAART) didn’t set out to use his 1974 Piper Warrior to relocate dogs from overcrowded shelters, but one phone call back in 2009 changed his mind.

“Our first thought was, ‘why would you fly an animal in your airplane?,’ but when we learned this animal was gonna be euthanized if it didn’t get a ride to Philadelphia, we knew right away this was something we could be passionate about.”

Plesset and Childs adopted the motto, “No Dog Left Behind,” and combining their love of flying with their love of animals they created a non-profit network of shelters and pilots. PAART mostly serves states in the eastern U.S. and Midwest but has big dreams for nationwide expansion.

PAART is donor and sponsorship-driven, and so until they can afford a larger aircraft, flights are limited to 250 nm (nautical miles). The difference is often made up with ground transportation, using vans now part of the PAART fleet.

“In the beginning,” Jon says, “we could do maybe 50 animals a year, now we can do 2,000.”

They also expanded their manifests to include any shelter animal that needs to be relocated, not just dogs.

A typical mission begins with a request from an overcrowded shelter. Relocating dogs, cats and other surrendered or abandoned pets from one city to another can give the animal a better chance of finding a “furever” home.
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PAART currently works with about 200 shelters which they can reach by any combination of air and land. For ground transportation, PAART activates dozens of enthusiastic volunteers to drive future pets to receiving shelters. Where flights are concerned, a dedicated team of volunteer pilots are also always eager to lift-off for the cause.

“Give a pilot an excuse to fly and they’re usually jumping for that opportunity,” Plesset chuckles knowingly, adding that a lot of preparation must go into a transport mission. PAART and the other pilots “gotta make sure the weight and balance is correct, we figure out a plan for how we’re gonna load the animals in the airplane, and if we can fly it within the limits of the aircraft, then we’re cleared to go.”

As much as PAART leaders and volunteers love animals, and as deep as their passions run for flight, Plesset says the heart of the work is not really rescuing animals – it’s people..

“When we get to see an animal we picked up, when we land somewhere and there’s someone waiting on the ground waiting to adopt this animal…that moment the animal connects with that new family, it’s such a beautiful thing. It’s like the perfect golf shot. You just want to keep doing it.”



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