Melbourne’s Pat Picornell Saves 250 Animals Yearly Via Pilots N Paws
By Maria Sonnenberg, Space Coast Medicine & Active Living // October 4, 2015
CENTRAL FLORIDA HUMANITARIAN SPOTLIGHT
ABOVE VIDEO: Pilot Jeff Bennett talks about saving lives of dogs and other animals. About five million perfectly healthy animals are euthanized annually at shelters across the country because shelters have no room to keep them until a permanent home is found. (Filmed at Humane Society of Tampa Bay)
Melbourne’s Pat Picornell Among Pilots Who Give of Their Time, Talent and Treasure To Pilots N Paws
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Air traffic controllers at Melbourne International Airport have a good idea when Pat Picornell is coming in for a landing.
She is the one with all the barking dogs inside her plane.
These are not pampered pets out for a joy ride, but rather animals on a flight for their lives.
Picornell is one of more than 4,000 pilots nationwide who give of their time, talent and treasure to Pilots N Paws, the nonprofit that orchestrates lifesaving transport for homeless animals.
About five million perfectly healthy animals are euthanized annually at shelters across the country because shelters have no room to keep them until a permanent home is found.
While pet overpopulation in some parts of the country has been reduced through aggressive spay/neuter campaigns, in others –particularly in the southern states – it remains a huge problem.
SAVING ANIMALS AT HIGH-KILL SHELTERS
Pilots N Paws orchestrates with animal rescue groups to save critters at high-kill shelters so overcrowded that incoming animals have little hope of being adopted.
“Some shelters have a five-day period, so even if a litter of eight-week-old puppies appears, they’ll be euthanized if they’re not adopted out in five days,” said Picornell.
The concept of ferrying animals to other areas of the country to up their adoption chances is not new, for rescue organizations have long undertaken ground relay teams that help animals through many state lines.
“In some cases, it may be a 16-leg, two day trip, but if one vehicle breaks down in one of those 16 legs, you’re in trouble,” said Debi Boies, founder of Pilots N Paws.
Boies is not a pilot, but she is a veteran of animal rescue work. Brock, her 11-year-old rescued Doberman, served as the poster boy for the win-win idea of using volunteer pilots to fly animals out of harm’s way.
Boies lives in South Carolina, but Brock was in the Florida Panhandle, where he had been abused as a sparring dog in dog fights. When pilot friend, John Wehrenberg learned of Boies’ desire to save Brock, he offered to go pick him up in Florida.
“When he got back, he started to ask me questions about rescue work,’ said Boies.
“We decided right then and there to make a difference. Brock was the impetus. He has helped us to save at least 60,000 animals.”
PILOTS N PAWS BORN IN 2008
Wehrenberg started telling his pilot buddies about the need for pilots in animal rescue and Pilots N Paws was born in 2008.
It’s been primarily a word-of-mouth campaign. For example, Picornell and her husband, Francisco, both pilots, learned of the program in 2012 from a North Carolina pilot.
The Picornells now schedule at least one monthly rescue trip, including trips to the Bahamas to pick up pot cakes, the nickname given to the many street dogs found in the country.
It’s no vacation, for they land, load the animals and turn right back. Their trip may be the first leg of a multi-leg journey.
“The general public doesn’t realize that there are areas very overcrowded with animals, while others have done a great job of curbing pet overpopulation,” said Boies.
WEB-BASED MESSAGE BOARD
Pilots N Paws is basically a web-based message board where pilots and rescue groups can connect to save animals. The groups find someone who wants their animals and post transport needs.
“The pilots contact them directly to help,” said Boies.
“They work together to set up the time and legs. It’s amazing what people will do if you give them the means. Most of these people are not wealthy. They have regular jobs and flying is their passion. They are looking for good reasons to use their flying skills. What better reason is there than to save a life?”
The animals come from shelters, the streets, puppy mills and even labs.
“We transported some lab beagles whose little feet had never touched the ground because they had been in cages all their lives,” said Boies.
Boies also recalls Sully, a boxer so abused that he was a skeleton with skin attached.
“He was so weak, he had to be carried to the plane,” she said.
Sully’s sad story fortunately ended happily, for thanks to Pilots N Paws, the dog was eventually adopted to a loving home far away from where he was found.
Pilots in the program know to expect the unexpected, such as pregnant dogs that go into labor during a flight. Some of the four-legged passengers also tend to get a bit overexcited.
“We had a dog bark all the way from Georgia,” said Picornell.
ASSISTS WILDLIFE IN NEED
Although dogs and cats are primarily the bulk of rescues, they are not the only creatures helped.
Through the Pilots N Paws network, injured eagles, hawks and falcons have found their wings again as they were transported to wildlife rehabilitation centers. Monitor lizards, boa constrictors and pot-bellied pigs – if they needed re-homing, Pilots N Paws was there to help.
In Picornell’s case, rescues have taken the form of as many as 16 dogs of various sizes, all neatly tucked in for the trips in crates.
“If we have the space, we take as many as we can,” said Picornell, a wealth advisor with UBS Financial Services in Melbourne.
Come Sept. 27, the Picornells will participate in a flyaway event at Melbourne Airport, where several Pilots N Paws pilots will convene to go fly animals to new homes.
More than 250 animals a year can thank the Picornells for a new lease on life. For the pilots, it is a labor of love that can be expensive. Picornell estimates that one flight can set her back $500 in fuel, but for the Indialantic resident, it is money well spent.
“I’m not leaving them behind,” said Picornell.
For more information about the Pilot N Paws program log on to PilotsNPaws.org