Lengths taken for the likes of Oscar

Published 4:41 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

Shaking and remarkably calm for the journey he was about to undertake, six-week-old Australian shepherd mix Oscar must not have known the lengths to which a handful of people did in order to find him a good home.

As Bainbridge-Decatur County Humane Society Shelter Director Beth Eck was holding the little puppy recently, preparations were made in advance to have Oscar, two other puppies and two small adult dogs from the Bainbridge shelter travel—via a private airplane—to the Sarasota, Fla., animal shelter.

Because Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota have much better spay and neuter programs, their shelter often lacks a good “pick of the litter” so to speak of good puppies and small adult dogs.

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Unfortunately, Bainbridge and Decatur County has too many dogs and cats because the area doesn’t have a good spay and neuter program, Eck said.

So in order to get good dogs into good homes hundreds of miles away, pilots such as Jeff Bennett of Big Pine Key, Fla., and David Olivares of Decatur, Ala., volunteer the time, donate their fuel and offer their airplanes to transport dogs from over-populated shelters to shelters that are fortunate enough to be in cities with good spay and neuter programs.

And as Eck said: “A good deed has turned into a wonderful thing.”

More than 25 dogs and puppies from the Bainbridge-Decatur County animal shelter have been saved by hitching an airplane ride to a place that promises a good home.

The pilots

Olivares, dressed in dress shirt, pants and shoes, went into work on the morning of Aug. 5 and then took the rest of the day off to fly three dogs from Missouri to the Decatur County Airport. Another pilot had delivered the Missouri dogs to Decatur, Ala., for Olivares to relay.

With a short stop over at the Decatur County Airport, those three dogs—plus the five from Bainbridge—were then put onto Bennett’s Cessna Cirrus SR22, the Cadillac of airplanes. Bennett, who was in shorts and sandals, and had in tow a reporter with The St. Petersburg Times doing a story on the Pilots N Paws program.

The retired nuclear engineer and business owner was about to go on vacation, and he wanted to save the lives of 100 dogs prior to leaving. As of Aug. 5, he had saved 86 dogs since October 2008 when he first started flying for Pilot N Paws.

“I love dogs. I love flying. It’s not much, but it’s something,” Bennett said. He contrasted his rescue of 86 dogs to the 76,000 dogs that are euthanized a week because of overpopulation within the country’s animal shelters.

Olivares’ trip was his first for Pilot N Paws.

“I like dogs. I have one of my own,” Olivares said. “It’s a worthwhile thing to do, and it gives me an excuse to fly.”

Bainbridge got in the loop thanks to Tony Scott, a Decatur County airport technician.

A little more than a year ago, a Pilots N Paws pilot was transporting two dogs through the area when bad weather forced him to land at the Decatur County Airport.

Having to spend the night, the pilot didn’t have anywhere to house the animals, so Scott, whose daughter, Cassie Torres, works at the Animal Shelter, called Eck and explained to her the situation.

Eck said she was more than willing to keep the animals overnight.

“Nobody ever thought about it here until that plane landed here,” Scott said. “It’s a good thing for the county and the Humane Society.”

And if only Oscar and the other puppies and dogs could only talk…