For private pilot and medical sales rep. Paul Bale of Knoxville, TN, flying is therapy.
And when you bring four paws into the mix, it’s heavenly.
“I need to do it, and a successful dog transport is very rewarding,” said Bale, who not only volunteers his time, he also pays for his own fuel and maintenance on his personal plane – a 1955 Beechcraft Bonanza, which he has configured for maximum doggy hauling.
“When people ask me why I do it, I tell them that any one of these dogs could mean the world to someone,” he said. “To have helped someone get a dog that becomes their most cherished companion is priceless.”
Bale knows all about having a dog for a best pal. A few months after his treasured Chihuahua Skittles got loose during a camping trip, a Chihuahua with the same name turned up at a shelter in Augusta, SC. Bale jumped in a plane.
“It wasn’t her, but we adopted her anyway,” said Bale. “She had had a very bad life, but took to us right away and is a cherished family member.”
That was even before Pilots N Paws’ first official flight in 2008.
Since that first rescue mission, Bale has transported about 135 dogs.
Pilots N Paws is a facilitator for these trips, known in the rescue and aviation communities as freedom flights for homeless pets. Pilots N Paws provides a message board where rescuers, foster families and other individuals put in requests for transports. Pilots keep an eye on the posts and the two parties make the magic happen.
“I started flying dog rescue to do something fun and meaningful with the airplane,” said Bale. “I’ve met many wonderful people, had some challenging flying experiences, and I’ve been to many new airports I wouldn’t have had reason to visit before.”
But Bale explained that none of this would be possible without the rescuers and foster families who require transportation for their animals.
“They do the hardest work in saving and nurturing dogs to the point they can be adopted,” said Bale. “Most of my transports have been for Homeward Bound (Camp Puppywannahoma), run by Jay Archer and his wife Tamara Runions. They literally spend every free moment to save any dog that is potentially adoptable and they spend thousands of dollars doing it. I have brought many dogs back from high kill shelters in Kentucky to be nursed to health at Homeward Bound and then transported the same dog weeks later for its ride north to a new home.”
The rescue community has an amazing transportation network, but without the planes participating, the trips can often be long and tedious for the pets.
“Air transport is good for young puppies and older dogs as they can get from Knoxville to Albany quicker and with less stress,” said Bale.
And there’s a bonus!
“They get to ride in cool planes and meet lots of people,” laughed Bale. “Air transport (for rescued pets) is a pretty small percentage, overall, but the most visible and glamorous.”
But it’s not about the glamor for Bale. So many flights have been deeply touching for him, including the transport of one mama dog who was scheduled to be euthanized.
“I brought a dog back from KY that had spent much time in a shelter, had puppies there, and had been hours from death,” said Bale. “Back in Knoxville, she got out and rolled around in the grass with such joy, you could see she knew she was safe now. And it was awesome to watch her puppies walk in grass for the first time, they had never been out of the shelter since they were born.”
Freedom flights truly help homeless pets find their wings, but without the humans on the ground who dig deep day in and day out, Paul Bale says there would be no way they could take off.
“People who foster and rescuers do the hard work, pilots get the fun and glory, and without their efforts I can do nothing.”