As many of you have seen, this year we have paired up with Dog Is My CoPilot, a non-profit that has saved 17,000+ pets from overcrowded shelters by flying them to cities where families wait to adopt them. A portion of profits from the sales of our sampler boxes (Flea + Tick, Indoor Pest Control, Insect Repellent) helped us fund the first flight of the 2021 rescue season.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Executive Director, Kara Pollard, and the founder of Dog Is My CoPilot, Dr. Peter Rork, to learn about their incredible organization, the lives they've saved, and how we're helping.
Hey uh Peter Rork here uh thank you for joining us. I want to thank everybody who signed on to the Facebook webinar for tales from the cockpit. We have Cecilie down here, this is like the Brady Bunch commercial I've got I don't know where your images are on your screen but she's down here and Kara is right over here and I just lost everybody's screen, so in any event I want to thank you all. Happy Holidays and Thanksgiving to you.
Sadly it was a little too much for one of the pilots and he dropped out I still have Jeff Carter and Brent Blue, all of you who live in Jackson know Dr Blue from Emergencare, so that's where we are now I'm planning on adding at least another two and maybe three additional pilots for next year
Understand that when we do these rescue flights you know we have a long
As you see from our numbers we're close to 17,000 animals that we've flown to their forever home and uh that we get our animals, source them from the from the facilities that have a limited life-saving program and we offer them the alternative of facilities that will adopt aim for a 100 adoption rate, so Kara what do you have. Now Kara's down here and so Kara do you have anything to add to this before we open this up?
No i just want to thank everybody for joining today. We're really excited to announce a new partnership we have with a wonderful Austin-based company called Wondercide and we've got Cecilie here who's part of that team that will
CECILE FROM WONDERCIDE:
We'll be donating those proceeds to go towards the first flight of 2021 so we're super excited because it gives us the option to save up to 250 pets and you guys mentioned you're close to 17,000 that you've already done so that's super impressive and we're all for that especially coming from Austin which is a no kill shelter city there and we've paired a lot with some shelters there as well so this is very near and dear to our hearts and we're just really excited to continue this partnership and conversation with you guys yeah thank you.
I want to throw that out because what a lot of people don't know is that we do a scrub down on the aircraft after every rescue flight. We used to use a solution that was provided by the veterinarians. I forgot what it's called, but it's a hydrogen peroxide-based solution. So we recently added Wondercide, and I was joking with Kara down here about the alliteration of that plant-based product that protects people and pets from pests. You know, a lot of p's in there, so I think it's their new marketing phrase.
We started using Wondercide, and I use the lemongrass. I know that sounds shameless, but it's actually the truth, and they are going to help us stay wheels up and save the animals. They have a sample box, and I would encourage you to get one. I don't know where we are in the process, but we offered to throw in the automobile magnets that we have with "Dog Is My Co-Pilot" for the first 250 boxes.
We received a lot of nationwide exposure this past year, beginning with CBS Sunday Morning, and with the thank-you notes I sent them all out, we've run out. Right now, we're kind of on backorder for those things, but we hope to have those in the first 250 purchases of the Wondercide sample box. So stay tuned for that.
So Kara no okay she's muted right oh you're muted Kara.
Sorry I like to mute myself during a conversation just so we don't hear a lot
So for people who are tuning in who may not know a lot about Dog Is My Co-Pilot and specific details especially if you're part of the Wondercide audience. Hi everyone, Peter I'd love to know just a little bit about you and how
Well, the idea has been out there for a while for animal transport. There is an organization called Pilots N Paws, and pilots can sign up on the website. They'll match an animal that needs to be transported from A to B. For low-time pilots or recreational pilots, it gives them a chance to use their aircraft or rent an aircraft and deliver one animal. It can change that animal's world. When I was practicing orthopedics, I didn't have a lot of spare time. But I thought that would be a way to give some usefulness to my resources and skills as a pilot. Having my aircraft, I did a couple of flights with Pilots N Paws, but I rapidly became very disillusioned with them.
On one flight, I was transporting a couple of dogs that were going to be used for breeding. On another, I remember flying probably five or six hours delivering a dog from Jackson to Burns, Oregon. One dog, six hours, a lot of resources. At that point, I knew that it was an incredibly inefficient way of addressing the problem, but I didn't know what the problem was. After I left medicine in 2012, I started a non-profit. I hired an attorney, Judy Zimmett, and got the 501c3 for me. I started with the model of Pilots N Paws, but the Animal Adoption Center in Jackson asked me if I wouldn't mind flying animals from San Francisco to Jackson on a monthly basis. They were having a housing problem there with their dogs.
I thought, "Sure, this is great. I love San Francisco. I get to fly my airplane, save some dogs, and maybe work on my golf game or go travel." We were only talking about four or six dogs on each flight, but that seemed like enough to me. When I went to San Francisco, I met Kara, who runs the San Francisco SPCA. She put on this beautiful luncheon for us. Halfway through the luncheon, she signaled for a private moment with me. She said, "You know, these people in Jackson don't need your help. Let me introduce you to somebody who really does."
The next day, we flew down to the Central Valley of California, Merced, which, if any of you are familiar with it, is a really challenged location. They were in desperate shape. It was very difficult for the dogs to be adopted, and their rate of euthanasia was over 90%. They would put 20-25 dogs in a van and drive to Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Missoula, Boise, anywhere to get them out. Sharon Lohmann was running New Beginnings, and she would pull the animals out of the facility, put them in foster homes, put them on the road, and get them out. She walked me through the facility, and my jaw just dropped. I thought, "This is it. This is what I have to do."
I flew back home on a small airplane - a large single-engine Cessna 206, which we stripped of its seats to make room for crates. I started flying for Sharon, who needed to transport animals on a regular basis. I could transport 20 or 30 crates, and instead of her 16-hour flights, I could do them in four and a half hours. I flew a thousand animals a year for her, and soon word started getting out. The attorney who helped me start the nonprofit stayed on as executive director but eventually got too busy with her practice. I approached Kara, and she agreed to take over as my co-pilot.
We knew we were being overrun with animals, but we couldn't carry larger dogs because there wasn't enough room in the small aircraft. I knew I had to get a larger airplane, specifically a Cessna Caravan. It was the perfect equipment for short haul flights, just like what FedEx uses. However, Dog as my Co-Pilot couldn't afford it. I enlisted the help of a broker to find an airplane, which was an aircraft from a mining company in Canada. It had too many hours on it and was all beat up from flying in and out of unimproved strips.
So, I flew up there with the guy. We looked through the log book and it was meticulously maintained. Everything was mechanically perfect, but to look at the airplane, it was such an eyesore. I mean, the interior of the aircraft looked like a 1967 Oldsmobile with the ceiling ripping down and everything. It was awful, and I thought, perfect! This is the perfect airplane. It was the perfect price. We still couldn't afford it. I went and mortgaged my house, loaned the money to Kara, my co-pilot. Karen and I had no idea how we were ever going to pay this loan back, but we had faith. We had faith that it would happen, and we just stayed on the path.
Then suddenly, our numbers went from a thousand a year to three thousand a year, and now the receiving groups are talking to each other, and saying, "There's this group that doesn't charge for hauling animals, and they'll take them from a thousand miles away. Let's contact our friends down in Texas, southern New Mexico, southern Arizona, and San Diego, California. Maybe he'll fly for us." And that's where we are today. We have a spider web of flight paths that we take, and some days I was on the road for three or four days in a row. It got a little burned out, to be honest with you.
We got a grant from the Petco Foundation last year - thank you, Petco - it allowed us to go out and train three additional pilots to the left. It really increased our flights from last year from 30 up to 45 this year, and now we're going up to 70. That's how we are. We're scaling up, and we didn't start with that goal, but we're just hanging onto the tail of the tiger here, and we're just following it wherever it takes us. We recently started exploring plans for obtaining a second aircraft with a group that wants it based in Atlanta, Georgia, so we can now start flying on the East Coast, and we may double and triple our numbers. Who knows? But right now, we're serving 12 or 13 western states.
We have the same sending and receiving partners, and they work together really well. All they're waiting for is when are we going to be there with the airplane. That's what Kara and I do in setting the schedule. Then I have the easy part: I fly the airplane down, pick up the dogs, and apply them to your destination. Now Kara has to work with all the groups in all the locations. When I was flying only for Sharon Wellman, I had to find 20 dogs, put 20 dogs in the plane, fly from Merced up to Missoula, take the crates out of the airplane, and go home. Now, we've had up to 250 animals on a flight, and nobody can take that many animals. Kara is going, "Yeah, who can take these animals, and how many stops do we have to make?"
I kid Kara all the time about being geographically challenged because she'll occasionally say, "Oh yeah, on your way back from Laredo, would you mind stopping in Pittsburgh or maybe Chicago and finding Minneapolis?" I'm going, "Kara, you're killing me." She's not like that bad, but she's not that okay. She just can't say no to these people, so we find ourselves making three or four or five stops in a single day and then dropping going on to our next source. We try to string these flights together. That's a lot of people to coordinate, getting them there on time, making sure that everybody is on the same page, and that's Kara's job.
So, you know, I fly 500 hours a year, which with all the flight planning and everything is probably 2,000 hours a year, which is like a full-time job, and Kara is doing at least that. I kind of feel bad about what we pay her because it's just embarrassing; it's just awful, but we don't tell anybody, okay?
So, that's where you are, that's how it started, started at a tragedy, and now it's something really great. I'm so flattered to be part of this. We got a lot of attention from Connor Knighton, who did the piece on CBS Sunday Morning, did a wonderful piece for us. Then we were on NBC News and we were on Fox News, the Hallmark Channel, and we got a lot of smaller donations coming in, which is great. We get a lot of people who will make donations over and over again.
What was interesting to me and to Kara is that how much hate mail we got. I mean, and I was shocked. I mean, I thought, "See, what does the guy have to do here?" So we had a phone conference with the Petco Foundation. They said we get hate mail all the time. You know, if we give any kind of monetary support to any kind of shelter that uses, you know, animal control populations wink, wink, you know what I'm talking about. They think we're supporting that as an option. And she said, "All we're trying to do is get them out of there safely." And you know the things that Kara and I got is that, "You're polluting the environment by flying that airplane and burning all the jet fuel. You should be feeding the hungry, housing the homeless with that money."
And I'm thinking, you know what, there are enough programs out there for people as it is. Our government has one of the largest giveaway programs on the planet, and how many programs are out there for dogs who are at risk? Especially in transportation, and that's something we found out is very very little.
I think it's just important for everybody to know that everybody can make a bit of a difference no matter where you are and um you know we're as our organization um we're able to partner with so many different groups all over the country now and um that's um really special but you know if you're located in the south or the north or wherever you're located one of the biggest things you can do is reach out to your local animal shelter and see where you can help on the ground, and as Peter said be part of the solution you know you can hopefully get into the animal shelters in your area and help walk, help volunteer. There's a lot of different ways to get involved so really just reach out to your local animal shelter or us and we're happy to to help um you know introduce you to some of our partners so um we're always Peter and I are always available and we love um connecting with our community and telling you where you can help out.
That's why we were immediately on board with you guys. I personally had never heard of anything where there was this organization that was transporting so many dogs on a plane. I had first heard about it in Jacksonville when I was living there, and I actually adopted my dog from the Animal Adoption Center, which I know you guys partner with. That was always such a big thing for me. I wanted to make sure I got a dog at a place where they were taking care of their animals. For partnering with like-minded people, I was always just so pleased to hear about what they were up to. That's how I initially learned about you guys. So when our PR team came to us a couple of months ago and kind of brought this idea to us, I was like, 'Oh, 100% on board. I will be the first person to sign up to talk to Peter and the teams. I want to hear everything about it.'
One of the things that I really want to hear about is you mentioned that you started off with 20 pets or 20 dogs on a flight. Can you tell us a little bit of, if you remember, how your first flight went? If there were any hiccups, how many pets you had? And then flash forward to now, what are some of the different updates and things that you've made to make sure that these pets have a nice, safe flight to wherever their next destination is?"
Sure, well there are the people that I started working with: Donna, Merced, Sharon, Daryl, and Lucy, and they're just terrific. But there was a situation early on when I was checking the weather. Now, the 206 had a very small cabin, so prices were at a premium. Daryl flew in the military, he flew the heavy metal stuff, so he knew how airplanes work. When I went in to check, he actually slid my seat all the way forward, stacked three crates up on the right seat, and then stacked the aircraft so that I couldn't be moved back. In the 206, the seat can be pushed right up to the instrument panel, so I was sitting there with my knees up to my chin, and it was really uncomfortable. What I learned is never to leave Daryl alone loading the airplane.
These crates are used over and over again, and two or three times a year, we have an animal that'll break out. Depending on how many animals we're carrying on board, they may not be able to make their way forward because the aircraft is stacked full, and it's a real Tetris game because all these crates come in a lot of different sizes. I want to give a shout out to the group center in El Paso and Kara down there with the El Paso animal services, because they have worked it out to a science. They call each crate by their dimensions. I just sit back and drink my coffee at four in the morning, and when they come to load, I never have to touch anything. They need a 14-inch crate, a 27-inch crate, and I say, "I love these people!" Kyla and her team figured out which is really neat to share with new groups that we partner with because it's tough to know how many crates are going to fit because there are so many different sizes that we're accommodating on our flights.
The El Paso team draws out a fake plane outside of their animal shelter. They tape it out with blue tape, and the day before the flight, they get all the crates that they know the dogs need to safely travel in and stack them up. They know exactly where they all can fit, so they can fit as many crates as possible. Not only that, but the flights from El Paso stop in Salt Lake City, Sun Valley, and Troutdale. It's a long day for the pilot and for the dogs, so we don't want to mix them all up. But what I want to do is keep the dogs on the ground for as short a period as possible. Thirty minutes is what I allow my pilots to take on offload the animals while we're taking on fuel, and then get up in the air because a lot of our flights during the summer can be pretty warm, and it gets very warm in the cabin of the aircraft, and we want to keep those dogs comfortable.
We have to load these animals in reverse order so that the first dogs that are loaded will be the last dogs out. So, the folks in El Paso do all that, too. They say, "Okay, these are the Troutdale dogs. They go in first, where we put them," and then the next dogs out will be Sun Valley, and the first dogs out are Salt Lake City. They need to be by the door, and they are really into it. Our plan for them, and please don't tell them because it's a secret right now between Kara and me, is that we're going to fly for them twice a month, starting in March. That's going to give them at least 12 or 14 flights. This is what makes my job so much easier and so much more fun.CECILIE:
So that was actually going to be one of my questions when you're on these trips
Uh, the short answer is no. Typically, they're sea-level animals. When they get above 10,000 feet, the air is a little thin, and they start getting a little sleepy. But then, when we're descending through 10,000 feet, they start waking up again. People will say, 'Why do you fly so high? Can't you just fly low?' I say, 'No, I want to fly through the mountains.' Remember, we're flying over the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades, and the Sierra Madres. These are 13- to 14,000-foot peaks that we have to get over, and it just doesn't make sense sometimes to fly around them, although we'll do that.
So, those are the things that we have to take into account. Plus, the other thing is that we're flying an aircraft with a turbine engine, and we'll burn 10 pounds of fuel less per hour for every 1,000 feet we go higher. Since weight and balance are so important in an aircraft like this, we measure everything in pounds, not necessarily gallons, although it burns about between 42 and 46 gallons an hour of jet fuel. When I take off and I go up ten thousand feet, I'm saving a hundred pounds of fuel per hour. At 6.6 or 6.7 pounds per gallon, you can do the math, and at four to four and a half dollars a gallon, you can see it's really saving a lot of money by going higher. The engine is much more efficient.
So, yes, they make a lot of noise. The more noise they make, the higher I fly. Just kidding. We typically fly between 12,000 and 13,000 feet, and there's always seems to be one little yapper dog in a crate right behind my head in the cabin.
I know we need actually we'll be wrapping up here here soon and so hopefully um we've been able to get to everybody's questions but one thing I would like to know um that's changed since the time i've come on board which has been
Yeah, that's exactly right. When Kara and I were first doing the math, my gosh, we were going to haul 200 animals per flight, and then it all morphed. Suddenly, we were using larger crates, and we couldn't overload the aircraft. We bulked it out with the size of the crates. The dogs have to have enough room to turn around and be comfortable. It's not like the Four Seasons; the crates are more like motel rooms. However, they take up a lot of room. So, our dream of flying 200 animals per flight suddenly shrank back down to realism - between 80 and 100 - because of the larger dogs that we're now able to transport. I'm a big dog kind of guy, so that made me even happier about our mission. I'm done talking here, and I want people to ask questions. Anything's on the table, so go ahead and have at it.
Yeah, the loading and offloading of the plane. The loading is really the key because we don't want to leave no dog behind. The groups that we've worked with now for years understand just how many crates they can put in there, and so we don't need any help with the loading. They come with the sending organization. The receiving group, we always ask for at least four people to come. It's a part of our agreement that we have with them, and so we don't need any help with voting or loading. Volunteer pilots, I'm always looking for volunteer pilots. When I first floated that, I had every pilot who had a pilot's license reach out to us. But the insurance requirements are really very, very tight now. And so, unless you have over 2,000 hours and you have some turbine time, there's no way that we can fit you in.
And this is very different from when I first started with this aircraft five years ago. I had zero turbine time. But they made allowances for that. They don't do that anymore. So it's a lot tougher. I've always thought that charity begins at home. If you want to volunteer, go buy your local shelter. If it breaks your heart, drop off a bag of dog food. If you want to donate, the dog is my co-pilot. We're very responsible fiscally with our resources, making sure that it goes to saving animals. When you look at organizations, and I don't want to bad-mouth anybody, but I'm going to. Well, if places like United Way or whatever, and you look at their 990s online, and that 60, 70 percent of all the money that you donate goes to administration and marketing. We're about ten percent and not even that most times.
We're a very lean organization. There's only one paid employee, and I'm sure that I'd get in trouble if I let anybody know what I pay her because it's too little. Everybody else is volunteers, and that's great. It takes a lot of money to run the airplane, and so if you want to donate to that, that would be great.
Thanks that's awesome. I did want to just quickly mention before and just tuned in or tuned in late uh for the dog of michael collaboration we are donating proceeds
Most of our sending partners are now based in Texas, where the need for our services has grown. It's a function of education, spaying and neutering, and adopting instead of shopping. I'm sure that everyone watching this program already understands this, but we need to reach out to those who are not watching. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll be happy to answer any follow-up questions. Let's wrap it up here, and we look forward to doing this again with everyone.
Great, thank you everyone for tuning in. Yeah, just the last thing. I don't want to point out this. There are four things that you guys can do. We've already covered one of them, and that is going by and volunteering at your shelter. We just covered another one about donating, but really the most important is adopting an animal. Going out and bringing one home, and bringing two. I have three, actually. Kara has a couple. For me, I guess it's an occupational hazard, but for every animal that you save, you save two - the one that you save and the one that takes its place.
And if you don't want to commit to adopting an animal, foster one and get that animal ready for adoption. Now, a lot of these animals are already in these facilities because of issues. Now, lord knows I have issues, but you know, maybe they're runners, or they have separation anxiety, or they don't work. They're barkers or they need waste training or voice commands. These are things that you can spend some time with a couple of weeks with these animals and getting them ready and making it easier to adopt. So, when the person comes in, they see that dog and they say, "Does this dog have any issues?" They can say, "Not anymore." That would be great.
So, thanks again everybody. Dog Is My CoPilot, our partner Cecilie with Wondercide who's going to keep his wheels up. We can easily fly 200 dogs or more with the money they're donating to us. Believe me, it's a very generous donation. And Kara, who does all the coordination and does all the computer work. I mean honestly, when she said she needed to get out of town over the Thanksgiving holidays, we were talking before the program began. I can say I've never seen you outside your computer room. I mean, it's just constantly in front of that screen. That's the room right there you see it.
So, thank you everybody. Everybody have a happy Thanksgiving and a happy holiday season. Don't forget that the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is Giving Tuesday, and Dog is My Co-Pilot could certainly use the help. All right, so thanks everyone. So long. Thank you. Bye-bye.