MONROE Hundreds of furry passengers lined the tarmac of Charlotte Monroe Executive Airport in Monroe early Saturday, waiting to hop on board private planes and travel to new homes.
The animals, mostly dogs as well as a few cats from the Carolinas, are a part of the Pilots N Paws Dog Is my Copilot rescue flyway. Pilots N Paws is a national nonprofit that started in South Carolina and transports animals by private planes from overcrowded shelters to organizations committed to finding them homes.
More than 40 privately owned planes flew into the airport Friday evening, prepared to transport the pets from high-kill shelters in North Carolina to new homes Saturday morning.
This is an awareness event, and we pick a location we feel is in greatest need, said Debi Boies, co-founder of Pilots N Paws. And North Carolina has one of the highest number of euthanization shelters in the U.S.
Animals were flown by volunteer pilots to foster homes and no-kill shelters in Washington, D.C., Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and New Jersey. Saturdays fourth annual event marked the largest number of animals flown in one weekend for the program, with more than 300 transported, Boies said.
But you really dont want to see a Pilots N Paws event near you, she stressed.
Pilot Jim Smith flew into Monroe from Miami on Friday night. Its his third time flying pets to safer locations, he said. On his Saturday morning flight to Orlando, Fla., his passengers included a Doberman pinscher, a terrier and a dachshund.
Its a great excuse to go flying, and it helps save their lives, Smith said.
Before boarding Smiths plane, the 12-year-old Doberman, named Jack, spent a month in the Doberman Assistance Network, living with Leigh Blanchard of Indian Trail. He came into the rescue after being shot in the left eye and was battling an infection.
Blanchard cared for Jack until the last minute, seeing him into his crate and meeting Smith before his plane took off.
Thats my Jack-Jack, Blanchard said, teary-eyed. He is my 28th foster animal. ... Hes the most wonderful baby.
Blanchard, who has four rescue dogs of her own, said it is important to get involved in rescue events because a couple weeks of your time can save a life.
Arlen Stauffer and Brenda Stauffer flew from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., to participate in Pilots N Paws for the first time. Their mission on Saturday: Charter eight puppies to their new homes in Tampa, Fla.
He loves flying, and I love dogs, Brenda Stauffer said. And all of these doggies need to be saved.
Trisha Blackmon, of Florence, S.C., brought 28 dogs from the Florence Area Humane Society to the airport. Blackmon, who is retired, spends most of her time working with the humane society and the Yorkshire Terrier National Rescue in Florence.
Im here saving dogs, she said.
Boies said Pilots N Paws typically chooses its annual location based on an area showing the greatest need for animal rescue. In 2010, for instance, pilots flew 171 animals out of New Orleans after the BP oil spill.
This years annual flyway gets its name from the programs newly released Pilots N Paws book titled Dog Is My Copilot. The book features stories about two dozen animal rescue flights.
The city of Monroe partnered with the nonprofit for this years event.
Animal control and animal safety is a huge issue, and we can step up, city spokesman Peter Hovanec said. We are happy to do this.