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(This is from The Knoxville News Sentinel.)

Pilot shepherds dogs from shelter to rescues for fostering
By Jessie Pounds
Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One dog starts, then another picks it up.

Jon Wehrenberg, the pilot, can hear the barking, even through headphones designed to keep out noise from the plane. He doesn't seem bothered.

"It won't be the first time," he says with a smile.

Wehrenberg is flying from the McGhee Tyson Airport to Greensboro, N.C., on a rescue mission of sorts. His cargo is five dogs from the Young-Williams Animal Center here in Knoxville. The shelter doesn't have room to keep the dogs alive, not without his help.

So Wehrenberg, who owns his own plane, is taking them to an animal rescue in Greensboro, where the dogs will be fostered until they can find homes.

These dogs are in addition to 43 other dogs he's flown since February to locations as varied as Jamestown, N.Y., and Gainesville, Fla.

It's the kind of volunteer effort that brings out incredulity in people, even staff at the shelters and other organizations Wehrenberg is helping.

"People wonder: Why would I want to do this?" Wehrenberg says. "The answer is because I can."

Wehrenberg and his organization represent a new front in the battle to save unwanted animals.

What was once just a problem of excess numbers has taken on a geographic twist. For many shelter dogs, a willing adoptive or foster owner may exist, but perhaps not nearby.

Animal rescues specializing in certain breeds or sizes of dogs are sometimes willing to take in a dog from out of state for fostering, if someone will deliver the animal.

And in some areas up North like Jamestown, spaying and neutering programs have been so successful that all dogs, not just purebreds, are in demand.

Here in Knoxville, though, there is simply not enough space. In 2007, the Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville euthanized more than 12,000 of 17,213 animals that came into the shelter.

Center Executive Director Tim Adams is committed to getting that number down in 2008, any way he can.

"If there's are rescues that will take a pet, we will work to find a way," he said.

A rat, a pot-bellied pig and Siamese cats are among the animals the shelter has sent to rescues.

Usually, if shelters and rescue groups want to transport a pet, they rely on drivers who offer to take a dog or two for a leg of a longer trip. These trips by car can be stressful for dogs, especially if they are being swapped from one car to another. Organizing all the different drivers can also be tricky, and a coordination mistake can leave a dog stuck overnight in a random town.

That's why Wehrenberg comes in handy.

Back before he retired, Wehrenberg used to fly his single-engine Cessna to meet with clients of his manufacturing business or for recreation. Last winter, he delivered a Doberman as a favor to Deborah Boies, a friend who was adopting the dog.

That friend happened to be part of Doberman rescue group, and when he asked her how rescue dogs normally get across the country, her insights into the frustrations of dog transportation got him thinking.

Together, they formed Pilots-N-Paws, a group aimed at getting pilots to volunteer for transports.

Pilots linked with the organization or its Web site have flown more than 60 dogs across the country, but since 48 of those were flown by Wehrenberg, both he and Boies think there's room for more pilots to step up.

As Wehrenberg heads east, in the back seat of the plane, one black-nosed, coarse-furred fellow has uttered nary a bark. Winston, a 1 1/2-year-old terrier mix, came to the shelter as a stray, sick with heartworm. The condition would normally disqualify a dog for adoption, but the Young-Williams staff saw something more in him.

Jennifer Hart glimpses that something special, too. The Animal Rescue and Foster Program president is on the tarmac in Greensboro when the plane descends from the sky, propeller whirring, dogs complaining.

She lets four of the dogs out of their cages and gets her first face-to-face look at Winston, whose picture she first saw in an e-mail from Young-Williams rescue coordinator Karen Lively, pleading for someone to foster the dog.

Hart, who has ties to the Knoxville area and will serve as Winston's foster owner, admitted to being a sucker for a photo of a cute pup.

"If there's not a picture, that doesn't tug at the heart strings," she said, later adding, "A lot of times small dogs don't do well in the shelter environment."

Released from his cage, Winston wags his tail as he accepts a scratch on the back from Wehrenberg. He's still fragile, having recently received treatment for heartworm, but is expected to recover under the treatment of Hart, who is experienced with caring for dogs with medical problems.

'Sometimes all they need is a little TLC," Hart says.

Back in the air again, Wehrenberg steers the plane west. He's already made plans to do another flight two days later, taking more pups to Jamestown.

For all his talk of flying dogs because he can, Wehrenberg's quest has the aura of an act of duty to the unwanted and mistreated canines of the region.

"They didn't ask to be brought into this world, or to be abused," Wehrenberg says. "They are always friendly, forgiving. I think we owe them something."

5,483 Posts
Quote:Jennifer Hart glimpses that something special, too. The Animal Rescue and Foster Program president is on the tarmac in Greensboro when the plane descends from the sky, propeller whirring, dogs complaining.
OMG! I was one of the 5 people who started that program when I was in college. That's pretty neat to see! Man, I feel old.

Yes, I hope they do good screening too. Hopefully they do but there are an awful lot of shelters and transport groups both that have good intentions but...

Euth stats look like about 69%. I hate to say it but for this area, that's actually pretty good.

12,142 Posts
I know the Pres. of a reputable rescue whose husband flys for Pilots for paws...not sure if this applies to all..but he certainly is careful where the dogs go

2,394 Posts

This is my local shelter and yes Karen Lively screens all of the rescues that the shelter works with.

I had a big long post, but the board wigged out right before I hit submit and it was lost. I will post more info about this shelter later when I am not at work.
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