DULUTH — In aviation circles, the term “air combat” usually conjures up images of pilots engaged in close and often deadly dogfights. But Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft encourages its customers to consider another form of dogfighting, in the sense of fighting for the survival of dogs by transporting animals destined for euthanasia from one place to another where loving homes are waiting for them.
Cirrus recently supplied a new SR22 G6 turboprop to model and actor Aaron O’Connell, star of “The Haves and the Have Nots” and “Love Accidentally,” to help him fly a dog safely in California. O’Connell has now completed more than 50 assignments as a volunteer for a non-profit organization called Pilots N Paws.
About 6,000 private pilots across the country have pledged to help the 14-year-old organization, which has rescued more than 200,000 animals to date, and counting.
“It’s amazing. Yet we receive many emails every week from new pilots who have just heard of Pilots N Paws,” said Kate Quinn, the organization’s executive director.
She noted that volunteer pilots engaged in flight training while performing a rescue mission have benefited from the tax-deductible status of the work they do as they learn.
“It also really enriches the whole learning experience because they’re flying with their instructor and they’re getting real-world experience with weights and ballast,” Quinn said, explaining that maximizing an aircraft’s payload to get as much of animals on an airplane is “almost like finishing a puzzle”.
O’Connell, who got his pilot’s license in 2013, said he had been flying for Pilots N Paws for seven years.
“It was just one of those things where, as a pilot, it was great to have the opportunity to fly. But there’s really no greater feeling than saving a life while doing something. something you like,” he said.
“It’s a small thing for a pilot to do. But in the big project, if you can add a new member to a family and change the life of an animal, it’s just a nice rewarding experience,” said O’Connell.
Quinn noted that many general aviation pilots, like O’Connell, became enthusiastic volunteers.
“You always hear the saying of the $100 burger because pilots are looking for good reasons to fly. And pilots were eager to join the cause,” she said.
O’Connell bought a Cirrus plane in 2014 and said his wife was particularly keen on its safety features, including an emergency parachute system for the entire plane. He’s been a dedicated customer ever since and said he’s been following the business closely.
On August 26, a date designated as National Dog Day, Cirrus and O’Connell teamed up to rescue an 11-year-old dog, Delilah, who was to be euthanized the next day at a shelter in Santa Monica, California, and the take them to a new home in Paso Robles, California.
Each year, more than 1.5 million animals are killed in overcrowded shelters, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But in other parts of the country, where there are fewer animals, these animals can often find loving homes.
Delilah had been microchipped, but attempts to find her former owner were unsuccessful. O’Connell said the abandoned dog was severely underweight but had a loving demeanor. “She’s going to be an incredibly adorable family member in her new home,” he predicted.
O’Connell praised Cirrus as a partner in promoting Pilots N Paws’ efforts to save animals. “They’ve been nothing but support,” he said. “They covered the cost of fuel and everything that needed to be done to make this mission happen.”
Quinn also expressed her gratitude.
“Cirrus helps us shine a light on our accomplishments, and I think that’s going to bring more pilots to our cause who want to get involved,” she said, noting that Pilots N Paws hopes to grow into a network of 10,000. volunteer pilots in the future.
“The more pilots we can attract, the more animals we will save,” Quinn said.
Nadia Haidar, public relations manager for Cirrus, said the company has tried to show its support for the organization in several ways. “Over the years, Cirrus Aircraft employees have voluntarily donated their time, aircraft and fuel costs to rescue animals through Pilots N Paws. The company has also provided financial donations to the organization,” she said.
Some of the longer Pilots N Paws missions involve multiple pilots passing animals to each other to complete the journey.
Quinn said the organization uses an online forum, where members of the animal rescue community can communicate directly with area pilots who may be on support missions.
“It takes a lot of people working together,” Quinn said. “There is a lot of coordination. The pilots play a central role, but it takes a lot of people to save the lives of these animals. And a lot of people who adopt these animals keep in touch afterwards. They will send Christmas cards . to pilots and follow up by other means.”
O’Connell said participating in rescues is rewarding and also helps pilots hone their skills.
“It gives us the opportunity to fly into new airports that we wouldn’t have flown into, to continue to work on pre-flights, weight and balance and weather and everything that you need to continually work on to be a safe pilot. At the end of the day, the number 1 thing is to be safe, to fly these animals to new homes and to make sure that everyone goes to bed safely that night.”
For more information about this animal rescue nonprofit or to sign up as a volunteer, visit pilotsnpaws.org.