Program helps find homes for dogs

RESCUE FLIGHT LANDS IN AUGUSTA

A lot of breeders euthanize Catahoula leopard dogs that are born deaf, considering them defective products.

 

That won't be happening to 13-week-old Mia. She can't hear, but she can fly, thanks to an online community that links rescued dogs to dog lovers by way of the friendly skies.

The pup touched down Monday to a warm welcome at Daniel Field airport, flown in by a high school junior with a student pilot certificate and a Cessna 150. It was 16-year-old Zach Hutcherson's first Pilots N Paws flight, with Mia sleeping in a crate for the three-hour journey from northeast Tennessee to Augusta.

She emerged from the plane stiff and groggy, but within minutes was licking the face of her new foster mother, Liz Edwards.

Mia (pronounced MY-uh) will move in with Edwards, her husband, their four dogs and a few other foster dogs in west Augusta. Edwards said she'll try to find her a home.

"If she ends up being mine, that's fine," she said.

Founded in 2008, the Greenville, S.C.-based Pilots N Paws program uses a Web forum to match needy dogs with volunteer pilots who can close distances to new owners.

The site has 1,824 registered pilots and more than 7,000 registered users, according to co-founder Debbie Boies.

Flight expenses are tax-deductible. Daniel Field waives the $25 landing fee for twin- and multiple-engine planes and gives pilots a 44-cents-per-gallon discount on fuel, just as it does for Angel Flight pilots who transport medical patients.

For Hutcherson, of Greeneville, Tenn., the trip was a chance to build up airtime hours as he works toward his goal of becoming a FedEx pilot.

"I like animals, I like flying," he said. "Combine the two, get some hours, everyone wins."

Boies said most flights start in the South, where spaying and neutering practices are lax, and end up in the North or Midwest, where there is generally less of a dog overpopulation.

Mia came from a Catahoula rescue in Piney Flats, Tenn. The operator there, Sharon Bryant, said a "backyard breeder" offered her the puppy, and she took it, fearing what might happen to her otherwise.

Deafness is a common genetic flaw among the Louisiana-rooted breed, especially in dogs with mostly white coats. She'll be joining another deaf Catahoula at the Edwards home.

They still make good dogs, and can respond to body language and hand sign commands, Edwards said.

Fly a dog

Pilots interested in making Pilots N Paws flights should call local coordinator Susie Cobb at (803) 279-8069, or Lillian Brown at Augusta Aviation at (706) 733-8970. For more information and to view the bulletin board, go to www.PilotsNPaws.org.

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