Flying Abandoned Animals to Safer Havens

Kara Pollard, executive director of Dog is My CoPilot, with her dog and the organization’s rescue transport plane, in Driggs, Idaho. Next to the plane is Peter Rork, the group’s founder and pilot.

Kara Pollard, 33, is the executive director of Dog Is My CoPilot, an animal rescue operation in Jackson, Wyo.

Dog Is My CoPilot is a catchy name, but what does your outfit do?

We fly animals — 80 percent dogs and 20 percent cats — from about 20 source shelters, where they are in danger of being euthanized because of lack of space, to some 62 receiving animal rescue organizations where these animals are more likely to be adopted. According to the A.S.P.C.A., approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year.

We work with groups in 15 American states from Louisiana west.

How many planes do you have and who does the flying?

We have just one plane, a Cessna Caravan 208B, owned and flown by our lone pilot, Peter Rork, a retired orthopedic surgeon who founded our organization in 2012. Peter often says he is a pilot who became a doctor, as opposed to a doctor who flies, since he started flying long before he became a physician.

What, then, is your role?

As executive director and what I like to call administrator of logistics and the occasional chaos, I work the phones and scour the internet looking to match shelters and rescue centers from our base at my home office in Jackson, Wyoming. In the winters I do fund-raising and media outreach, with news releases to each area we fly. I spend most of my time, though, coordinating among the sending shelters, the receiving groups and Peter. It requires split-second timing for all three components to come together once Peter lands anywhere.

How did you get into this type of work?

My parents adopted pets from rescue centers since I was a toddler in Barrington, Rhode Island. My mom kept a note from my kindergarten teacher saying, “You’ve always been drawn to animals, so I’m sure your passion will lead you to animals.” Being around animals makes me comfortable. I can read their body language.

How did you end up at Dog Is My CoPilot?

I volunteered at animal shelters in Providence all through high school. At the University of Vermont my focus was animal science, with thoughts of becoming a veterinarian. I also continued working with groups like Random Rescue in Williamstown, Vermont. When I moved west, I started working in the nonprofit sector at animal adoption centers. When the opportunity with Dog Is My CoPilot came up in September 2016, it felt like a perfect fit.

How many animals can you fly in one trip?

The number we transport in one flight depends on the size of the crate. A Chihuahua needs a different sized container than a Great Dane. But we estimate we can carry between 80 and 150 at a time. Since our start, we’ve flown 8,085 animals.

Do you also handle animals that get separated from their owners in natural disasters?

Yes. After Hurricane Harvey in Houston we connected with a group near Houston called San Antonio Pets Alive, with whom we helped transport 54 dogs and cats to safe centers in Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming. These animals were already in the shelter system and did not have owners looking for them. This made space available in shelters to help families looking for their lost pets.

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