by Judy Zimet
Every few weeks, 30 to 50 dogs are loaded into a Cessna Grand Caravan at Casa Grande Airport. There is plenty of room in the back with all of the seats removed. Behind the wire doors of the crates, the dogs – a little nervous about the unknown – are still relieved to be given a new life.
The dogs were at risk of euthanasia just hours earlier until Director Audra Michaels and her staff at Pinal County Animal Control prepared the dogs for their flight to freedom. Pilot Peter Rork flies this route and dozens like it several times a month. On the ground, Judy Zimet serves as ground control, planning and coordinating these life-saving flights. Together, they have saved thousands of dogs and cats.
Dr. Peter Rork, a retired Wyoming orthopedic surgeon, pilot and dog lover, began donating his time and his Cessna 206 to animal rescue organizations in 2008. After the death of his wife in 2012, Dr. Rork contacted Judy Zimet, a Scottsdale attorney, real estate agent and animal lover with many years of experience launching, boosting and operating small businesses. They created an organization that fed their passions – animals, flying and charity.
Peter and Judy launched Dog Is My CoPilot, in June 2012, received 501(c)3 status in August 2012, and by the close of its first year in operation, flew over 700 abandoned cats and dogs to safety. Now, four years later, they have a larger airplane that can fit over 100 animals per trip. The larger plane has allowed them to more than double the lives saved on each flight.
Dog Is My CoPilot (DIMC) is a well-oiled machine that decreases the number of animals killed in shelters and increases shelter adoption by flying animals to areas where they are more adoptable. DIMC works with established nonprofit animal rescue organizations (AROs) to coordinate flights. AROs pull animals from open admission shelters and move them to safety in humane rescues, breed-specific rescues and foster/”furever” homes.
When the distance the animals need to travel is too great for over-the-road transport, DIMC swoops in to fly them. DIMC flies as many animals on one flight as possible. Crates are packed in tightly, and when needed, Peter will leave his canine copilot Tia at home, so that one or two rescued animals can fly next to him in the right seat. DIMC flies 11 states in Rocky Mountain and Pacific regions. Recently, Texas dogs have been added to the list, as the Texas organizations drive their dogs to New Mexico for pick up.
The benefits of animal rescue air transport are many. As DIMC widens the geographic circle of potential homes, AROs will find homes for more abandoned animals. Also, by providing rescues with the types of animals adopters want, DIMC ensures adopters choose abandoned animals rather than purchase from online sellers and puppy mills. Equally important is what the flights do for the rescuers, shelter workers, and fosters on the ground.
The first thing that one shelter worker, Heather, sees as she walks into the office each day is a line of dogs outside the euthanasia chamber. These dogs are stuck in an overcrowded shelter where life ends because of lack of space. Sometimes, the line is shorter or nonexistent because DIMC is flying a large group out of town, leaving empty cages and space for life.
DIMC lifts rescuers’ spirits by giving the animals they love a second chance. Those rescuers who see their animals off at the airport are often brought to happy tears. There is no cost to the rescue groups. Everyone in animal rescue is slight on resources and great in need. Therefore, DIMC is solely supported by individual donations.
Donors can make their gifts at www.dogcopilot.org and Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/DogIsMyCoPilotInc. Information for rescue groups, stories of rescue flights, and opportunities to support the organization are available on both sites.