Text by Catherine Probst Ferraro and Paul King; video by Paul King
It was a cloudy day in October at the Manassas, Va., airport when Michael Young and his passengers fueled up for their flight in his Columbia 400 airplane to transport some special cargo: a group of rescued dogs heading to new homes.
Young, an adjunct faculty member in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering and faculty advisor for the university’s Aviation Club, was one of the volunteer pilots who transported eight dogs from high-kill shelters in South Carolina to new homes in Pennsylvania as part of a Pilots N Paws rescue flight.
Based in Landrum, S.C., Pilots N Paws is a nonprofit organization that helps connect individuals who rescue, shelter or foster abandoned or abused animals with pilots and plane owners who are willing to assist with the transportation of the animals to new homes.
Young has flown over 42 rescue flights and logged more than 25,000 miles transporting more than 250 dogs to the Washington, D.C., region, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware.
“As a pilot, I am always looking for any excuse to fly,” says Young. “So when I had the opportunity to work with Pilots N Paws, I jumped at the chance to do what I love and at the same time help save these precious dogs from death row in the high-kill shelters and transport them to new homes.”
Typically, Young will fly to North or South Carolina to pick up the dogs and then transport them to Virginia or farther north. On this particular day, Young met up with a fellow volunteer pilot at the Manassas airfield who had flown the dogs up from South Carolina. Young and his helpers loaded the dogs and flew to Blue Bell, Pa., where the dogs were then handed off to volunteer rescuers who help the dogs get adopted.
Having had as few as four and as many as 17 dogs on one flight, Young always has two or three helpers. Most of the helpers are Mason students and members of the Aviation Club.
“Who does things like this, much less students, much less 18-year-olds?” says Jessi Hessong, a Mason freshman biology major who has assisted Young on several rescue flights, including this one. “[At Mason] I’m 1,600 miles away from home and thought that was the last plane I was going to be getting off of for awhile. I didn’t think two months later I’d be up in a private plane doing something I love, which is helping animals.”
While most dogs sleep during the trip, some want to be held, so the student helpers are ready with open arms to hold and comfort them. Some of the dogs prefer a window seat and will climb into the students’ laps — and sometimes even Young’s — to see the view.
“I know the love that dogs can give people,” says Young. “Dogs are great creatures, so the opportunity I have to help the people pulling the dogs from the high-kill shelter and bringing them to a place where they know they’re going to be adopted is a good feeling.”