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How one high-flying dad is making pet rescue a family affair

Recreational pilot John Quimby and his son Ethan, 13 have never had snakes on their plane.

But they do regularly fly with dogs and cats.

The first canine passengers on their single-engine plane were two border collies rescued from euthanasia in a shelter at the eleventh hour. The father and son team picked them up at an airport in Kentucky and flew them to Tiffin, Ohio where animal rescuers were on hand to receive them and take them into foster care.

Quimby is one of 2000 pilots nationwide registered with an organization called Pilots N Paws. It’s an online message board that links animal rescuers around the country with pilots who pick up pets that have been removed from high kill shelters, puppy mills and other abusive situations and fly them to other parts of the country. Once there, they're picked up by adoptive families or rescue organizations who will foster them until they find forever homes. 

Pilots donate their time, use their own planes and foot the bill for fuel, which averages around $250 per trip.

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    Image: Yorkshire Terrier

    Which are the best-loved breeds in the nation? The American Kennel Club reveals the leaders of the pack.

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    America’s top dogs

    Which breeds are the top contenders for man’s best friend? The American Kennel Club ranks the most popular pups of the year.

    Shih Tzu
    While sweet and playful, Shih Tzus are not afraid to stand up for themselves. As a matter of fact, the word Shih Tzu means "lion" in Mandarin. This portable pooch carries itself proudly, with its head well up and tail curved over the back.

    Cherished by Chinese royals for more than a thousand years, the Shih Tzu was the prized house pet for most of the Ming Dynasty. During World War II, English soldiers discovered the breed and its popularity spread around the world.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    9. Poodle

    The poodle holds the record for being the most popular dog for 22 consecutive years (1960-1982). Though the breed’s elaborately groomed show coat often creates the misperception that it’s a pampered aristocrat, the poodle is actually one of the high achievers of the canine world.

    The stylish “poodle clip” seen in dog shows was designed by hunters to help the breed move through the water more efficiently. In fact, the English word "poodle" comes from the German pudel or pudelin, which means “to splash in water.”

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    8. Dachshund

    The breed lovingly known as the “wiener dog” has a strong personality with a dose of charm and a playful sense of humor. They can adapt to city or country life and can get all the exercise they need exploring a small yard in the suburbs or playing with other dogs in the dog park.

    Dachshunds, meaning “badger dogs” in German, were first bred in the early 1600s in Germany with the goal of creating a fearless, elongated dog that could dig the earth from a burrow and eliminate the badgers for the farmers.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    7. Boxer

    Easy to care for, intelligent, and faithful, the boxer is an affectionate and trustworthy pet for an active family. Boxers are known for standing up on their hind legs and batting at their opponent, appearing to box with itheir front paws.

    People began importing them to America from Germany after World War I, and they began to grow in popularity in the late 1930s.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    6. Bulldog

    The bulldog has been steadily rising up the list of AKC’s most popular breeds since it entered the Top 10 in 2007. A medium-size dog, they are not your typical lapdog, but would like to be! Bulldogs are calm, loyal family dogs that are happy to curl up on the sofa, eat two or three square meals a day, and have their bellies rubbed.

    Said to have originated in the British Isles, the name "bull" was applied because of the dog’s connection with bull-baiting. The original bulldog had to be ferocious and courageous, and almost insensitive to pain.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    5. Golden retriever

    Slipping one place to fifth, golden retrievers are well-balanced, strong, active dogs with a kind expression, a gentle manner and an alert and self-confident disposition. They are intelligent, friendly and reliable, with an innate need to please their owners.

    The breed originated in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1800s and the dogs were used predominantly for hunting.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    4. Beagle

    The beagle is the only breed to rank in the Top 10 every decade since the founding of the AKC. Originally developed to hunt rabbits, they naturally enjoy the company of other dogs and humans. Curious and comedic, they often follow their noses – which can lead to some mischief.

    Beagles like to vocalize. In fact, the origin of the name "beagle" may have been derived from the French term "be’geule," referring to the baying voice of the hounds when in pursuit of game. The most famous beagle of all, Snoopy, was named the American Kennel Club’s “most popular dog in pop culture” in 2009.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    3. Yorkshire terrier

    These playful dogs offer owners a big personality in a small package. Though members of the Toy Group, this breed is terrierlike by nature — brave, determined, investigative and energetic. Yorkies are highly favored apartment dogs and lapdogs; they are very energetic as puppies and tend to be quiet and settled as adults.

    In 19th century Yorkshire, England, Yorkies caught rats for workers in cloth mills. The breed’s coat was so beautiful that people said the mill workers must have spun their coats in the factories.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    2. German shepherd

    Celebrated for their versatility, distinguished for their intelligence, and beloved for their devotion to their owners, German shepherds are active dogs that love to run and explore their surroundings with their excellent noses.

    Hailed as the world’s leading police, guard and military dog, German shepherds also serve as guide dogs for the blind, guardians, and search-and-rescue dogs. However, they are best known for serving as devoted family friend and protector.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club
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    1. Labrador retriever

    In 1991, Labrador retrievers took over the top spot on AKC’s list of the most popular dogs in the U.S. from the cocker spaniel, and today celebrate their 20th anniversary in the top spot.

    These gentle animals are happiest when with their owners, and require attention and love as much as food and water. Labs are high-energy, action-oriented dogs and can become easily bored without proper training and exercise – ideal for an active family or as a trusted hunting companion.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel Club / Courtesy of The American Kennel Club

“Recreational flying is the dumbest hobby ever,” says Quimby, who lives in West Chester, OH and works as a computer project executive for IBM Global Services. “Nowadays, there’s simply no justification for the expense. People refer to this pastime as the hundred-dollar hamburger syndrome — flying somewhere to have a hamburger and returning home. But these animal rescue flights have given me a purpose and a very good reason to fuel up my plane and go somewhere every weekend.”

Pilots N Paws is the brainchild of longtime animal rescuer and horse breeder Debi Boies of Landrum, SC and her friend Jon Wehrenberg, a former businessman and recreational pilot.

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    Igor Okunin / AP

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    Are you my mommy?

    Meet furry, four-legged moms who adopted, nursed and nurtured animals of different species.

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    Are you my mommy?

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    Wrinkly meets stripey

    "Are you my mommy?" Meet furry, four-legged moms who adopted, nursed and nurtured animals of completely different species.

    The first mom up is Cleopatra, a shar-pei who "adopted" two baby tigers in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on June 4, 2012. The tigers, whose mother refused to feed them, found an unusual wet nurse in the wrinkly, sand-colored dog. The cubs were born in late May in a zoo at the October health resort in Sochi.

    AP / AP
  • Are you my mommy?

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    Squirrel learned to purr

    Emmy, a sweet-natured tortoiseshell mother cat, readily adopted Rocky, a baby squirrel who fell out of his nest, in September 2010. Rocky landed in the yard of Jim and Karen Watkins of Carthage, Miss., and they brought him to Emmy to see whether she would nurse him along with her new litter of three kittens. She accepted the squirrel right away, and Rocky did some quick adapting of his own: He learned how to purr just like a cat.

    Caters News / ZUMApress.com / Caters News / ZUMApress.com
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    Grrrrrrrrr-ateful

    Isabella, a golden retriever in Kansas who adopted three white Bengal tiger cubs and nursed them as her own. The tiger cubs -- Nasira, Anjika and Sidani -- needed somewhere to turn because their mother stopped nursing them 15 hours after their birth. Zookeepers Tom and Allie Harvey brought the cubs home, and their dog Isabella stepped right up.

    Tom Harvey and Keith Philpott / Tom Harvey and Keith Philpott
  • Are you my mommy?

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    She saved baby pig's bacon

    Katjinga, a Rhodesian ridgeback dog who lives on a 20-acre farm in Germany, adopted an abandoned pot-bellied piglet in August 2009. The tiny black piglet, named Paulinchen, had been so small at birth that her mother likely overlooked it. Katjinga's owner, Roland Adam, found the piglet alone and cold and brought it to his 8-year-old dog. "She loved the piglet at first sight and cares about it in the way she did for her own puppies," Adam said. "Days later she started lactating again and giving milk for the piggy. She obviously regards it now as her own baby."

    Fame Pictures / Fame Pictures
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    Not as nutty as it looks

    When the tree these baby squirrels called home was felled by a chain saw, Pixie the poodle was there to help. Pixie still had milk after giving birth to her first litter of puppies a few months earlier, and she accepted the three squirrels with no qualms in March 2010. She nursed the homeless squirrels for five weeks at her North Carolina home, and then an animal rehabilitation specialist continued raising them until they were ready to be released.

    The Daily Dispatch via AP / The Daily Dispatch via AP
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    A cat with no dog issues

    A Siamese cat named Amanda, owned by Debbie Girting of Beaver, Pa., is shown here nursing her two newborn kittens along with an orphaned litter of puppies in March 2010. Lucy, Girting's Maltese Pomeranian dog, gave birth to seven pups on March 7, and Amanda's kittens were born on the exact same day. Sadly, four days later, Lucy had a seizure and died. Amanda stepped right up and adopted the puppies as her own.

    AP / AP
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    Are you my mommy?

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    Instant love

    Laska the Alsatian immediately viewed it as her mission to nurture two tiny, abandoned wild boars who were close to death when they were found in Hamburg, Germany in March 2010. The baby boars -- dubbed Alice and Emma -- were brought to the home of the Heckers, Laska's owners. Because of their small size, baby boars can't stay warm enough alone at night to keep alive. Laska focused on snuggling up against them to keep them warm, cleaning them with her tongue and picking them up whenever they toppled over. To read more about Laska and the baby boars, visit PeoplePets.com.

    Barcroft / Fame Pictures / Barcroft / Fame Pictures
  • Image: Smaigel the cat nurses her kittens and four puppies at her owner Mohammad Al-Hamoury's house in Amman

    Are you my mommy?

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    I'm there for you

    Smaigel the cat nurses her kittens and four puppies at her owner Mohammad Al-Hamoury's house in Amman, Jordan in February 2009. Smaigel took it upon herself to care for the puppies after their mother died in a car accident.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: Young elk rescued from a flooding river is adopted by a female dog

    Are you my mommy?

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    Got elk?

    The young elk pictured here was rescued from a flooding river by a farmer in South Korea in July 2009. This female dog eagerly adopted the elk and began breastfeeding and guarding him.

    EPA / EPA
  • DOG ADOPTS KITTENS

    Are you my mommy?

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    'Mother instincts took over'

    Chia, a Pomeranian in Emporia, Kan., let four abandoned kittens nurse from her in August 2000. Chia, who had a 2-week-old puppy of her own at the time, adopted the motherless kittens after they were found by her owner's boyfriend. "Her mother instincts took over," owner Kelsey Wilson said. "She herded them and got them to nurse."

    AP / AP
  • Are you my mommy?

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    A gorilla's 'motherly instinct'

    Koko the gorilla has loved cuddling and nurturing kittens since 1984. Gorilla Foundation volunteer Janis Turner arranged to have a litter of orphaned kittens visit Koko in September 2009, and Koko became especially enamored with a tiny orange kitten named Tigger, pictured here. "Something fascinated her about Tigger," Turner told PeoplePets.com. "Koko purrs. I get chills just thinking about it. She does this deep purr and she's so gentle and has this loving looking in her eye. ... Kittens are so calm around Koko because she has that motherly instinct." Read more about Koko at PeoplePets.com.

    The Gorilla Foundation / koko.org / The Gorilla Foundation / koko.org
  • Image: Pig is surrogate mother for tiger cubs at Sriracha Tiger Zoo

    Are you my mommy?

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    That'll do, pig

    The "Happy Families" exhibits at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand certainly aren't run-of-the-mill. They feature animal families of mixed species, including families of baby pigs adopted by tiger mothers and families of tiger cubs adopted by mother pigs. One such surrogate sow is pictured here in this April 2009 photo with her baby tiger cubs.

    EPA / EPA
  • Image: A cat breastfeeds a squirrel at a house in Envigado near Medellin

    Are you my mommy?

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    Playful 'siblings'

    Tita, a cat who belongs to Ruben Gaviria, breastfeeds a squirrel as her kitten plays with it at Gaviria's house near Medellin, Colombia. Gaviria rescued the squirrel after it was found injured in a park in February 2010.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: One tamarin monkey species adopts another

    Are you my mommy?

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    She wanted to be a mom

    A lion tamarin monkey at the London Zoo is so known for her strong motherly instincts that zookeepers dubbed her "Maternal Juanita." And in the summer of 2010, Juanita found a way to make her dreams come true: She adopted a monkey of another species – a baby emperor tamarin. The surrogate mom began carrying her adopted baby around on her back. The publication LiveScience noted how "the emperor tamarin's grey body and white moustache stand out against its 'mother's' fiery orange mane."

    The Zoological Society of London / The Zoological Society of London
  • Image: Three baby pigs rests next to their adoptive mother, Sai Mai, an eight-year-old tiger, at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand's Chonburi Province

    Are you my mommy?

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    Another 'Happy Family'

    Three baby pigs rest next to their adoptive mother, Sai Mai, an 8-year-old tiger, at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand in January 2010. Sai Mai nurses and cares for the piglets as if they were her own.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • WILD MONKEY ADOPTS KITTEN

    Are you my mommy?

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    Dads, this one's for you

    Many male animals have strong parental impulses, too. Take, for instance, this wild long-tailed macaque monkey in Bali, Indonesia. He stunned animal lovers around the world when he adopted an abandoned kitten and cared for it as his own. The monkey was spotted in a forest protectively nuzzling and grooming the ginger kitten, making sure no harm came to it. The extraordinary sight was captured by amateur photographer Anne Young while on a holiday to the Monkey Forest Park in Bali's Ubud region.

    solentnews.co.uk / solentnews.co.uk

Back in 2007, when Boies was trying to adopt a Doberman that had been used as bait in a dog-fighting ring in Florida, Wehrenberg offered to fly his own plane from his home in Knoxville to pick her up in South Carolina so that they could collect the dog and fly back again.

“I was flabbergasted and in awe that anyone would make such a generous offer,” recalls Boies. “But I soon learned that recreational pilots are as passionate about flying as animal people are about rescuing pets. And, since pilots are always looking for reasons to fly, introducing them to animal rescuers seemed like a perfect match. So Jon and I pooled our contacts and launched Pilots N Paws. I was amazed at the response from the moment the message board was up and running.”

John Quimby learned about the organization from a newspaper article he’d read while flying home on a business trip.

“The first thing I did after putting down my bags was log on to the site and, the following weekend, I had my first rescue flight booked," he said.

Quimby's dad was a pilot and he flew with him as a kid. Today, his younger son Aidan, 11, has been getting into the game, and the two young brothers take turns accompanying their father on trips.

"We’re all animal lovers," said Quimby. "And as a family, are so blessed that I am happy to pay the fuel and plane costs out of my own pocket.”

Apart from the quality father-and-son-time, Quimby's sons work on board the flights, helping to calm and reassure the pets until they reach their destination.

The pilots registered with the site typically fly to destinations about 250 nautical miles from their home base.

Rescues take place around the country, though Boies points out that certain rural areas in the southeast and northeast of the country are known to have a high kill rate in shelters. Puppy mills are rife in Missouri, and Los Angeles has a lot of overcrowded high-kill shelters.

Around 9,000 rescue groups are registered with Pilots N Paws. Boies has set herself a goal of having 10,000 pilots linked to the message board in the not too distant future. And since the organization is registered as a 501c3, flyers can recoup some expenses when they file taxes.

Although the Quimbys prefer canine passengers, other pilots have been known to fly snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors — in addition to cats, pot-bellied pigs and even day-old chicks.

“It’s not unheard of for animal rescuers to set up pony express–style ground transportation runs involving up to 16 drivers to cover a distance of about 1600 miles, a trip that could take an entire weekend,” explained Quimby. “Whereas on a single flight, I can replace about three to four people and cover a couple of hundred miles in several hours.  I also team up with other pilots in order to transport pets greater distances. This frees up rescuers for other important work they do.”

Ethan fondly remembers that first flight with his dad when they rescued the border collies.

“The dogs were so scared,” he recalled. “I helped walk them before they boarded, made sure they weren’t thirsty and sat and played them throughout the journey to calm them down. One of them was so special. I couldn’t bear the idea of her having to go into foster care and possibly wait months before being adopted, so I asked my Dad if we could adopt her.”

A week later, Ethan and his dad flew back to Tiffin to pick up Marcie, who has remained firmly attached to her young rescuer and his brother ever since. 

Ethan's job duties also include taking photographs to keep a record of the pets they have helped find better lives.

“I know I can't take them all home," he said. "Even though my brother and I are with them for just a short time in the air, we both get attached and feel sad when we drop them off.”

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