Pilots bring dogs to local families

By on September 25, 2009

by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—A local family helped a dog complete a long, life-saving journey that began in a Georgia shelter, continued through a rescue flight that landed in Joliet, Ill., and culminated in a good night’s sleep in the animal’s new Sugar Grove home.

The Novacks, parents Mark and Staci and their two daughters, are a Rover Rescue foster family who picked up the black and white chihuahua on Sunday during the Geneva PetSmart’s Adoption Day.

The dog’s journey was supported by multiple volunteers and nonprofit organizations. The rescue flight was through a program called Pilots N Paws.

Jon Wehrenberg, a retired businessman and a Pilots N Paws pilot from Knoxville, Tenn., met Elisa Crawford from Rover Rescue at the Joliet Regional Airport on Sunday morning. The passengers in his Cessna 210 were 17 dogs from a Georgia shelter, where, because of overcrowding, they would have been euthanized.

Wehrenberg said he began transporting dogs from shelters to rescue organizations two years ago, when friend and Pilots N Paws co-founder Debi Boies needed to get a dog from Tallahassee, Fla., to its new home in Tennessee. Six months later, they founded Pilots N Paws, and since then, he has recruited nearly 1,000 pilots to help transport the dogs.

“(Transporting the animals) by car is hard on them,” he said. “It’s hard to find enough people, and you end up with relays of an hour or more at a time.”

Jon Wehrenberg

Jon Wehrenberg

By flying the dogs, the entire trip takes about two hours. The animals are not moved, and they end up getting fairly relaxed during the ride. He said he has flown 320 dogs from high-kill shelters to places where the dogs will be offered a new life.

Wehrenberg said the need is so great because in many places, especially in the South, spaying and neutering is not a common practice, and shelters end up with more dogs than they can care for. He said that in Knoxville alone, they euthanize between 70 and 100 dogs a day.

Once Wehrenberg landed in Joliet, the chihuahua and the other dogs were transferred into the care of Rover Rescue.

The Aurora-based organization specializes in rescuing dogs from shelters and abusive homes and placing them in new homes. The organization coordinates with a network of dog foster families, which includes local families from Elburn, Maple Park and Sugar Grove, like the Novacks. The organization also works with local PetSmart stores, which regularly provides space for Rover Rescue to bring in animals for an Adoption Day.

Rover Rescue President Kelly Janulis said that although her organization has been working with Pilots N Paws only a short time, she is grateful to Wehrenberg and all the other pilots who donate their time, their plane and their fuel to save these dogs.

“A life is a life is a life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s from Illinois or Georgia.”

She said that Pilots N Paws makes it much easier to save more dogs and bring them to a loving home.

Two of the 17 flown in on Sunday have already found permanent homes, while the remaining 15 reside in temporary foster homes.

The Novacks, one of the Rover Rescue foster families, have two other rescue dogs at home. Mark said they brought one of the dogs home when she was pregnant, and have since adopted out her five puppies.

He said that initially, it was hard for his daughters to give the puppies up for adoption.

“But they know if we kept all of them, we couldn’t offer another dog a home,” he said.

People who wish to adopt a dog can find pictures of them along with descriptions of them and their temperaments on the Rover Rescue website, and can make arrangements to visit the dog at the foster care home to see if it is a good fit. They can also come to a PetSmart adoption event to meet the dogs.

Novack said that he and his wife talk with the prospective adopters to ensure that the dog and its future family will be a good match.

“Usually there’s a dog out there that’s a good fit for every family,” he said.

While a dog awaits adoption, the foster home family can provide a natural environment in which the dogs will thrive, and socialize and train the dog, making it more likely that the adoption will be successful.

For more information about Rover Rescue or to view adoptable pets, visit www.roverrescue.org.

Top photo: A Rover Rescue dog up for adoption at Sunday’s Adoption Day at the PetSmart in Geneva gets a big hug from foster home family member Staci Novack. Photo by Susan O’Neill