by Martin Rose
Combining his love of flying and his passion for saving animals, Michael Schneider launched Pilots to the Rescue (PTTR) in 2015. His organization focuses on relocating animals from overcrowded animal shelters in the Southeast to Northern pet rescue shelters with a no-kill policy. Schneider estimates that he’s relocated more than 50 dogs from animal shelters facing euthanasia to no-kill shelters or foster families during the first year.
Although he’s experienced success since the inception of PTTR, Schneider’s goal for 2021 is to rescue 1,000 animals.
“We are on pace to rescue more animals in 2021 than in the entire history of our organization,” Schneider says. “My other businesses were eviscerated because of COVID-19. By circumstance, that allowed me to focus on PTTR full time, and the results are extremely rewarding. It doesn’t feel like work. I’m giving PTTR the time and attention it deserves.”
The importance of the program
Many shelters and pet rescues are overcrowded, and the need for a relocation service has never been greater. “Shelters were cleared out when people came home to work at the start of the pandemic,” Schneider explains. “Everyone wanted a [to adopt a dog or] furry friend. People began returning to the workplace or [unfortunately] experienced job loss or eviction, and the result is that many animal shelters are now overcrowded.”
PTTR has volunteer pilots across the country, but the group primarily flies out of its New Jersey base, covering a 1,000-mile radius from North Carolina to Maine. New Jersey to North Carolina is PTTR’s most frequent trip.
Schneider lists the Carolinas along with Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and California as the most prominent problem states for euthanizing animals. Dogs and cats are flown to the northeast and placed in no-kill shelters or foster homes to await adoption.
“Many municipally-run shelters must euthanize animals when they become overcrowded,” Schneider explained. “These shelters [and dog rescues] have a limited budget and limited space. Plus, people don’t spay or neuter as much in these states.”
Schneider flies many of the group’s pet rescue missions himself and recruits other pilots to volunteer their time, transporting animals at their own expense. PTTR is a registered non-profit charity. Through successful fundraising efforts, the group has purchased a 6-passenger plane designed for long flights with big cargo loads to transport the rescue animals more comfortably.
Many of the animals PTTR transports are older or have medical issues, which makes it difficult for them to survive a long relocation journey by ground transport. Most of their clientele are dogs and cats, but a sea turtle and two rare red wolves were also happy PTTR fliers.
“The red wolf is the most endangered canine in the world,” Schneider shares. “There were only seven known to exist when we were asked to fly a wolf to be mated at a conservation center. It was successful, and they had 10 pups, increasing the red wolf population by more than 100%. Recently, we flew one of those pups to Tennessee for a new mating attempt.”
“Endangered species work is so important,” Schneider says. “Eradicate one species and the entire ecosystem gets out of balance. We are particularly proud of this success story. We made a big difference. The wolf could not have endured the stress of a long drive.”
Schneider’s challenge to others
Schneider wants to challenge people to give back. “It’s amazing what happens when you roll up your sleeves,” Schneider says. “It’s easy to write a check, but getting involved in something you believe in is very fulfilling. Give back any way you can.”
Schneider hopes that he can inspire others to get involved in organizations and causes that they support. Whether it’s volunteering at your local pet rescue to help a family adopt a dog or organizing beach cleanups, Schneider firmly believes that by giving your time, “you’ll get fulfillment in ways you didn’t know existed.”
“A lot of good fortune I cannot explain has come my way, but I have to believe it’s tied to giving back. I get to pursue my love flying and saving animals full time.”
How you can help
“It’s important to create awareness of the problem of overcrowded shelters and euthanizing animals. Adopt an animal rather than buying one,” he shares.
If you’re looking to adopt a dog or cat, check out your local shelters and pet rescues before turning to a breeder. To learn more about PTTR and their mission, visit their website here.