2022 has been another amazing year for Dog Is My CoPilot. This is our 10th Anniversary, we rescued our 25,000th animal, and we now have a second rescue plane, ‘The Sequel’! We have so much to be thankful for and look forward to sharing our journey with you.
Dog Is My CoPilot began after the depths of tragedy. Founder, President and Chief Pilot Peter Rork, lost his wife unexpectedly in 2012 and was encouraged by a friend to do something to deliver from his grief. Peter, a lifelong pilot, began using his small personal plane to transport a few animals at a time from a shelter in San Francisco to a shelter near his home in Wyoming. After visiting a municipal shelter in Merced, CA where over 90% of the animals were being euthanized, he realized more needed to be done. He soon began transporting animals in his small personal plane 4-5 days a week, but the demand for his rescue flights continued to grow.
To purchase a larger plane, Peter mortgaged his house, gave the money to Dog Is My CoPilot, and went from rescuing twenty dogs at a time to up to two hundred and fifty dogs. Dog Is My CoPilot purchased “The Big Dog”, a Cessna Caravan turbine aircraft, from a Canadian mining company. Peter knew the plane was meticulously maintained, but visually it was a disaster. “Chipped paint, ripped seats, it was perfect!! The dogs won’t care what the inside looks like!”, Peter recalls saying. Around this time, Executive Director, Kara Pollard joined the team, Petco Love became a major sponsor and Dog Is My CoPilot scaled up from rescuing hundreds of animals a month to thousands of animals a year!
Tonto captures the heart of many people
One of our long time partners is the small six kennel Presidio Shelter, in far west Texas. There are many stories of dogs coming from this amazing rural shelter, like the story of a dog named Tonto. This 80lb love bug was surrendered with paperwork that listed the reason: “don’t want him anymore”. In the shelter, despite being great with people, low energy, and co-kenneled with female dogs with no problems, he languished. No adopter, no foster, no rescue partner. Tonto was at the Shelter for fourteen months until the City said it was time. If he wasn’t adoptable, he had to be euthanized.
That motivated our partner, Heather Hall who runs The Underground dog Rescue to step into action quick!. Without alternatives, in Tonto came as Heather’s foster dog; he didn’t miss a beat. Happy, housetrained, mellow, snuggly, 100% non confrontational with any of the dogs and respectful of the cats. Shared his stuff, didn’t pull on a leash, took treats nicely, slept in his crate, was just so damn happy for a quiet place, a regular routine and a soft couch. We could not have been prouder. He snored. His tongue didn’t fit in his mouth. He had the softest ears. We loved him.
“It can be almost impossible to assess dogs in the shelter environment. For 14 months of waiting there, within 3 weeks of being fostered, Tonto had his rescue ticket with Dog Is My CoPilot our a partner in Bosie Idaho Bosie Bully Breed Rescue. He was set up for success in the best way possible. Fostering can be hard – emotionally and practically. Sometimes they eat your shoes, or cry all night, or pee on your couch. But it’s the surest way to save a dog’s a life, and to have the amazing experience of being supported by so many other people who see your effort and help get your foster dog home. I’ll never forget Tonto, or all the people who came together to give a great dog in a high risk shelter at the middle of nowhere the life he deserves. They understand how bittersweet it is. It will be so amazing when I see Tonto again, finished with all the transitions, safe and secure in the love of his people, snoozing without a worry in the world, on a couch that he knows as home.”
The need for animal transportation services is rising across the country
Although the pandemic initially led to an increase in the number of animals being adopted, over the last 12-18 months adoption rates have decreased. Shelters are overcrowded because of an increase in the number of homeless animals, a lag in spay/neuter services, and a shortage of animal shelter workers nationwide. This has been a tough year for animal shelters all over the country. Shelters are full and adoption rates are down. The employees in these shelters are working tirelessly to save the pets that walk through their doors. These shelter workers are the true heroes and we want them to know their dedication never goes unrecognized by our team. We are so grateful to each and every person that has devoted their life to saving shelter pets. Be sure to watch this heartwarming story created by one of our partners, One Tail at a Time PDX.
We are responding to the crisis
We could not sit by and watch the crisis go from bad to worse. In 2022, we realized that the time had come to once again scale up, and obtain another aircraft. “The Sequel,” a second Cessna Caravan, became part of our family in June and is based in Texas. The Sequel will have a large impact in the Southwest where there are too few services and a growing population of stray animals. Looking forward into 2023, there will be two planes in the sky, five to seven days a week, transporting animals out of our nation’s overcrowded shelters.
Yuki needed a rescue after being abandoned at an overcrowded Texas shelter
Yuki, who was found dirty, skinny, and terrified, was one of the lucky pets we saved this year.
She’s a powerful reminder of why our work is so important. At risk for euthansia in an overcrowded shelter in Texas, she was adopted by a loving family in the northwest just a few days after her transport flight. Thanks to our Texas shelter partners and One Tail at a Time PDX for working together to make sure Yuki found her family!
We live a magical life with Yuki. We are all still learning with each other, there are times that she gets triggered and scared, but we scoop her up and love her and she knows it’s going to be ok. We are so lucky that she was rescued. Not only is her life better, but our lives are better because of her. Thank you”, Angela and Peter Panagakos, the humans to Yuki Joon.
With two planes flying every day, we needed ground staff to ensure all of the pets have a smooth ride
The help we needed came from two long time volunteers: Lynette Duford and Frank Maresca. Lynette Duford has joined the Dog Is My CoPilot team to help with the logistics and planning for our rescue flights. Coordinating with shelters, volunteers, and airports, not to mention changing all of the plans when weather impacts our flight schedule, is a full time job. With her help, Dog Is My CoPilot has become more efficient and is saving more animals than ever before.
Frank Maresca started as a volunteer pilot and quickly started to spend the most time of any pilot in the captain’s chair. While we was logging thousands of miles in the air every month, we saw the need for better coordination with our team of ten volunteer pilots. Frank’s work, organizing the pilots and coordinating the maintenance schedules of our two aircraft, helps keep Dog Is My CoPilot wheels up and loaded with as many animals as possible.
Recently we rescued our 25,000th animal Bunches
He is a big dog, weighing in at over 80 pounds, and like most big dogs, is loyal, loving, and compassionate. Bunches proves most stereotypes about big dogs wrong. After waiting over a year in a Texas shelter, it only took one rescue flight and twenty four hours for Bunches to find a loving forever home in Utah. Bunches is another inspiring example of how a single flight can change the lives of both animals and humans alike.
Our hearts are full as the end of the rescue season draws near
In ten short years, the growth of Dog Is My CoPilot has created many memories and has helped place tens of thousands of animals into loving homes across the country. Looking ahead to 2023, we will be offering more than one hundred and fifty rescue flights, at no charge, to our partner shelters, saving the lives of more than 5,000 dogs and cats. In the future there will be new partnerships across the country, many new volunteers on the ground and in the air, and more smiles and tails wagging than ever before!
From everyone at Dog Is My CoPilot, have a wonderful holiday season!
Thank you for being part of our Dog Is My CoPilot family, we are so grateful to our community of supporters, our shelter and rescue partners, our volunteer pilots and everyone out their working tirelessly to save dogs and cats! Happy Holidays.
📸 Laura Verhaeghe: https://www.lauraverhaeghe.com/index