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Holly’s incredible ‘Pilots ‘N’ Paws’ journey

By Staff | Aug 31, 2009

After fostering Holly for seven weeks and discovering how much she likes her tummy scratched, Kyle Erdahl and the affectionate Chihuahua began the last leg of an incredible journey to her new home in North Dakota... thanks to ‘Pilots N Paws’ pilot, Tom McFadden.

Man’s love for dogs is reaching new heights.

This was certainly proven on Saturday, Aug. 22, when Tom McFadden of Mason City, Iowa, landed at the Blue Earth Municipal Airport as part of the ‘Pilots N Paws’ program to pick up a very important passenger, Holly.

Holly is a 1-year-old Chihuahua, whose loving owners had to give her up two months ago because of their poor health.

Thus began the incredible journey of Holly.

There were lots of tears shed by the elderly couple as they entrusted their beloved pet to the Faribault County Humane Society, recalls Staci Thompson, president of the local organization.

The couple’s faith that the local group would find a loving home for their Holly was temporarily realized when Kyle Erdahl, a senior at Blue Earth Area High School, agreed to foster the bouncy and loving little dog.

“Kyle had emailed me last winter about adopting a dog,” says Thompson. “But I talked him into fostering instead.” He is just one of 11 or 12 currently serving as a foster parent for pets in the county. Thompson says there is a great need for many more foster homes.

“I love pets and saving lives,” says Erdahl of his involvement in foster care.

“Kyle takes the responsibility of fostering animals very seriously,” adds Thompson.

“Before we (Humane Society) came along, five days and the animals were euthanized. This is the only way we can handle the volume of animals we see,” says Thompson of the fostering they promote. The group hopes a larger facility can be built, but this will take funding and time. Time some animals may not have.

“When we started the organization up again, we never dreamed we would be this busy,” says Thompson. “We work with the local pound and the Wells pound, so we meet and work with a lot of people and animals.”

Fortunately, for the group, the Faribault County chapter of the Humane Society was never unincorporated from the 1980s when Carol Patten was at its helm. Sue Mensing and Staci Thompson got it reorganized after the late Avis Boettcher called saying she had all the original bylaws. Now they are in need of more foster homes, such as Erdahl’s, to house the animals people put in their care.

“No one is immune from fostering,” says a chuckling Thompson. “Even my pastor is currently fostering two kittens.”

For seven weeks, young Erdahl fostered Holly. The reality of fostering is a person becomes more and more attached to the animal each day. This was certainly the case with Erdahl and the affectionate Chihuahua.

“When we put Holly on our web page we were pretty confident we would find a match,” says Thompson of the events leading up to Holly’s flight to North Dakota with McFadden.

“Today is the best and the worst day when a foster parent has to give up an animal,” says Thompson as she watches Holly rolling on her back to get her tummy scratched by Kyle.

“We try to match an animal to someone in a nearby area if possible, but it has to be the right fit. Terrie Brettin is everything we wanted in a match,” grins Thompson of the 116th successful dog adoption she has coordinated. “Terrie had rescued a dog from a group like ours in Colorado,” says Thompson. “She also had connections with the ‘Pilots N Paws’ program, so she put a post on the pilot’s website and got a hit within a couple hours by McFadden.”

“It’s great there are pilots out there willing to fly these surrender animals to new homes,” Thompson says, “because we (Humane Society) don’t quite have the money for private flights. We’re lucky if every animal is neutered”

The ‘Pilots N Paws’ is a network of about 500 pilots nationwide who donate their fuel, time and aircraft to help transport animals like Holly to a new home. They combine their love for flying and fondness for animals in this volunteer service.

Whether one is interested in fostering animals or in flying them to new homes, the application process is very simple and similar, explains Thompson. It generally involves obtaining one veterinarian reference and two personal references. Applications for fostering may be obtained by contacting the local Humane Society.

“It would really be great if local pilots would checkout the ‘Pilots N Paws’ program,” adds Thompson, “since it has been proven air travel is much less stressful on animals than ground transport.”

There is no formal application to being a pilot for the volunteer program, says McFadden, a pilot of 23 years. He got involved because he says one can only fly around his area so much before needing a change of scenery. Flying pets to their new homes not only gives him a destination, but it also helps maintain his air hours.

“I was originally going to volunteer to be a pilot for ‘Angel Flight,'” says McFadden, “but my plane is too small. A friend of mine told me about ‘Pilots N Paws’ and I have been involved in it now for about six months. I’ve flown primarily to Midwestern states with pets. I like animals and I like planes, so this is a rewarding way of enjoying both.”

He says Holly is the smallest dog he has ever transported, but a couple of weeks ago he picked-up a Greyhound racing dog from Dubuque and delivered it to the Twin Cities.

“In one day we can move a dog from the East Coast to the Dakotas by doing pilot hand-offs,” says McFadden. “There might be three to five pilots involved, each taking segments of the flight route.”

To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.