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Pilots log hours while saving animals' lives

Why volunteers fly for Pilots N Paws

Pilots who fly recreationally often share a common issue: finding new places to go. Chris and Jackie Gaertner, the owners of four aircraft, and Sue Haas, the owner of a Millennium Edition Cessna® Skylane® 182S, found an inventive solution.

“It gives real meaning and purpose to our flights,” Jackie said.

These pilots fly for Pilots N Paws, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that brings together general aviation pilots who are willing to provide free transportation for rescue, shelter or foster animals. The organization says it needs more pilots to meet the growing need.

Pilots N Paws by the numbers


  • 12,800+
    registered users

  • 4,200+
    volunteer pilots

  • 50
    states with volunteers

  • 15,000+
    animals fly each year

The group’s missions vary. Some are for pets heading to their adoptive homes far away, and some trips involve moving animals from an overpopulated region to a community where they have better chances of being adopted. These trips save animal passengers from euthanasia, because many go to foster homes or no-kill shelters. Pilots N Paws estimates four million pets are euthanized each year in the United States because they were no longer wanted or never found homes.

According to Sue Haas, pictured above with Ed Abrams (L) and John Fontaine (R) who are also volunteer pilots for Pilots N Paws, “Putting the right animal with the right person rescues everyone concerned.”

“It’s not just about helping the dogs we transport. It’s about helping people, too,” Haas said. “Sometimes the rescues will send me a follow-up photo of the dog and its new forever family. You can see the happiness the dog brings to them.”

Those requesting help communicate first through a Pilots N Paws message board. Pilots who can assist reply directly to the person and plan the details. As volunteers, Haas and the Gaertners pay for all expenses related to a rescue flight, though some costs are tax-deductible donations.

“We receive much-appreciated support from most of the FBOs we patronize during the flights: fuel discounts, waived landing/support fees and treats for the animals,” Jackie said.

“I hope other pilots will get involved. They will find it to be so very rewarding. You are using your unique gift of being able to fly an airplane to do something really worthwhile.”Sue Haas, Pilots N Paws volunteer pilot

Visit pilotsnpaws.org to


  • Volunteer as a pilot

  • Donate to the organization

  • Read rescue stories

Both owners considered their humanitarian flights when they purchased their airplanes. The Gaertners’ King Air has plenty of room in the cabin for the animals’ crates and a mission assistant – usually one of their sons – to give the passengers some attention and ensure they are handling the flight OK.

“Yet another reason we love this airplane,” Jackie said.

“On one particular flight we were able to fit seven pet crates in the cabin, carrying a total of 39 animals. They were transported safely and comfortably in our pressurized cabin from Visalia, California, to Hillsboro, Oregon – a 2.5-hour flight. This included three momma dogs, 30 puppies (22 less than a week old) and six kittens.”

In just over two years, Jackie and her husband have already taken more than 75 multi-animal trips.

Moving pets quickly and routinely out of overpopulated areas saves animals’ lives and opens up space for more to be rescued.

Both Haas and the Gaertners love their humanitarian work so much they gave a nod to it in their tail designs.

The Gaertners also have a Citation® CJ4® they fly for Pilots N Paws as well as compassion flights for Angel Flight West and Veterans Airlift Command. With full schedules at work and home, the couple uses these humanitarian missions as ways of spending time together.

Pilots N Paws volunteers have even transported a bear cub, a young dolphin, ferrets, birds and sea turtles.

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