Pilots N Paws fly 200 to new homes

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015

By Angie Long

Rescuing angels arrived in Greenville on Saturday, and they flew in on wings of metal and fiberglass to give more than 200 Alabama animals in need of good homes a second chance at life.

The “Pilots N Paws Sunshine Fly-Away” was the first large-scale animal rescue event of its kind in the Camellia City.

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Members of PNP, a national non-profit organization bringing volunteer pilots, plane owners and animal rescuers together, were welcomed to Mac Crenshaw Memorial Airport on Friday by the Butler County Humane Society, the host group for the event.

On Saturday morning, the little airport buzzed with activity.

Rescuers from 20 other Alabama counties arrived in their SUVs and trucks with their precious cargo aboard — dogs, cats, puppies and kittens of all shapes and sizes, both purebred animals and those of the “Heinz 57” variety.

News video cameras, cell phones, tablets and traditional cameras clicked left and right as Becky Harshman of Alabama Rescue Relay, the coordinating organization for the fly-away, used her foghorn to call out pet and county names for boarding.

“Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen . . . Wrangler! . . . Lucky going to Orlando!” Harshman said.

With the January chill, smaller and younger pets were wrapped in blankets and snuggled by rescuers, pilots and BCHS volunteers alike as they awaited their turn for their flights of a lifetime.

The 15 planes flew the animals to five Florida destinations: Orlando, Tampa, Boca Raton, Melbourne and West Palm Beach.

“Pilots N Paws typically does an event of this size once a year. We’ve been working with them for several years,” Butler County Humane Society president Herbert Morton said.

“Normally, we have, at the most, one or two of the Pilots N Paws planes come at a time, and they pick up 15 to 30 animals. (Saturday), we have a lot more planes and a lot more animals. It’s what you call ‘organized chaos,’” he added.

It was a community effort to make the event a success in Greenville, Morton said.

Camellia City Bakery catered supper on Friday night for the PNP volunteers, while Phillip Graham of Super Foods donated hot breakfasts for them on Saturday morning. BCHS volunteers Tom and Mary Lou Crenshaw baked homemade pastry treats for everyone to enjoy on Saturday, while Brenda Whitney sent home care packages of banana nut bread with all the pilots. The City of Greenville provided goody bags for the “angels for the animals,” and allowed use of the Senior Services mini-bus to shuttle visitors to and from their hotel to the airport. Volunteers also helped with transportation to and from Best Western.

As to why Butler County and other counties in the state have a need to place homeless animals in out-of-state locales, it’s simple, says Morton.

“We have an imbalance here. There are still more cute, lovable, adoptable pets in Alabama needing a good home than there are homes and families in our county and our state who want to adopt them,” he said. “In other parts of the country, there are lots of people really wanting to adopt rescue animals, and there aren’t enough to go around.”

Butler County has made great strides in reducing its surplus pet population, said Morton.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen the number of animals requiring euthanization drop by 88 percent at our shelter. That is in a large part due to the hard work by our animal control officers Kristi Sexton and Christy Duke, along with Kandys Killough and our own BCHS Second Chance Rescue. They all go the extra mile in finding homes through these various animal rescue groups around the country,” Morton said.

According to Morton, the number of dogs and cats adopted out locally has also risen in the past year. Foster pet parents in the county provide homes to those animals awaiting adoption or a rescue commitment when the shelter and Second Rescue are at full occupancy. However, there are sometimes more pets than people to care for them.

“I understand in Pike County they have over 120 animals in foster care right now. I wish we had that many foster parents here,” said Morton. “Our’s do a great job, but they could use some help. It’s something we’d like to ask more animal lovers in our county to consider. We can’t save them all, but we are doing our best to make sure as many adoptable animals as possible get those homes they deserve.”

Everyone can do something to improve animal welfare in our county, says Morton.

“We keep preaching to the community—get your animals spayed and neutered. Adopt instead of buying from a pet store. Foster animals. Transport. Donate. Support what we are doing in whatever ways you can. It does make a difference.”