February 8, 2023

Updated January 26, 2022 | For Dog People

By Jen Reeder | Freelance Writer

Thanks to the generosity of a volunteer pilot, the sky’s the restrict for a information canine pet in coaching named Fenway—and plenty of different future information canines.

Earlier this month, the 11-week-old yellow Labrador Retriever flew from New Jersey to Cleveland, Ohio, on a non-public airplane captained by Michael Schneider, founder, govt director, and “prime canine” on the New York-based nonprofit, Pilots to the Rescue.

Despite climate delays and a 40-knot headwind that made the flight take twice so long as traditional, Schneider was decided to offer a profitable transport as a result of little Fenway has an enormous job: turning into a information canine by the nonprofit, Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Fenway lands in Cleveland

Fenway, an 11-week-old Labrador Retriever pet, will spend round 600 days with volunteer pet raisers whereas he trains to turn out to be a information canine. Photo credit score: Robert Albion Ziegler

Fenway Gets His Wings

Fenway wanted to go to Cleveland to satisfy his volunteer pet raisers, a pair who will spend 12-18 months socializing him. They’ll train the pup fundamental obedience and fill his life with optimistic associations in quite a lot of conditions in order that he’s calm and assured as a information.


Then, Fenway will fly again to the Guiding Eyes campus in Yorktown Heights, New York, for superior coaching earlier than partnering with somebody who’s blind or visually impaired.

“These volunteer [puppy raisers] are doing superb work for the advantage of the imaginative and prescient impaired,” Schneider informed The Dog People. “They’re elevating these puppies after which they’ve to offer the animals again—that’s actually out of the kindness of their coronary heart.”

A Soaring Labor of Love

This was Pilots to the Rescue’s first flight for Guiding Eyes. Usually volunteers with Pilots to the Rescue fly at-risk pets from high-kill shelters to security. This helps give a break to volunteers who drive homeless pets from overcrowded shelters to no-kill rescue organizations typically for days on finish—a activity sophisticated by the continued Covid-19 pandemic.

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Plus, a 3-hour flight could be a lot much less worrying for a canine than a 3-day automobile journey.

But whether or not it’s to fly pets to security from high-kill shelters, or to profit different nonprofits, “so long as it’s a superb trigger, we’re completely satisfied to do it,” mentioned Schneider. 

In 2021, Pilots to the Rescue transported 565 animals, primarily canines and cats in addition to sea turtles, endangered wolves, and foxes—all without spending a dime.

“Our objective this 12 months is a thousand,” Schneider mentioned. “I really like these transports.”

Michael Schneider flies a rescue dog to safety.

A hearing-impaired Dalmatian, Pongo, was flown to security by Pilots to the Rescue. Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVIII will function his rescue flight when it airs on February 13, 2022. Photo courtesy of Michael Schneider

Flying the Friendly Skies

For a lot of the January 12 flight, Fenway snuggled within the lap of Thomas Panek, President and CEO of the New York based-nonprofit Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Also onboard: Tabitha, a yellow Lab who accomplished her superior coaching and was heading to Ohio to begin her life as an official information canine for somebody who’s visually impaired.

Panek’s personal information canine, Blaze, needed to keep house as a result of the total airplane had reached its weight restrict, so Tabitha stuffed in for him once they landed.

“When I got here house, Blaze knew that I had been with different puppies as a result of he sniffed my footwear and tried to determine who I’d spent the time with,” he informed The Dog People with fun. “But he flies with me regularly, so I’m positive he was completely satisfied to take the time without work.”

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On the flight house, Panek and Schneider returned with two extra Labs, Ed and Fallon. Fallon is a pet heading for superior coaching, and Ed will likely be evaluated to see if he’s able to be a information canine.

Panek mentioned the inaugural flight with Pilots to the Rescue kicked off a “fantastic partnership” that may assist Guiding Eyes for the Blind proceed to serve people who find themselves blind or visually impaired, in addition to these with further disabilities similar to deafness, a number of sclerosis, and cerebral palsy.

Thomas Panek holds Fenway

Guiding Eyes for the Blind primarily trains Labrador Retrievers to work as information canines. “We discover that Labradors like to study, and that they’re fairly resilient canines who’re keen to please as a part of their character. And they’re very meals motivated, and we do use optimistic reward. We don’t use any unfavourable reinforcement,” mentioned Thomas Panek, President and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Photo credit score: Robert Albion Ziegler

Sky’s the Limit

There are over 450 households volunteering as pet raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in numerous areas of the United States.

“We wouldn’t be capable of increase 450 canines ourselves,” Panek mentioned. “So it’s the largest and most essential a part of this system.”

Puppies be a part of pet raisers when simply 8-11 weeks previous. Regional managers host pet courses and provide recommendation and help alongside the way in which. Volunteer pet sitters take care of the canines if a raiser must exit of city and can’t carry the canine.

Guide canine puppies in coaching spend a median of 600 days with their raisers earlier than heading to “faculty” for superior coaching with Guiding Eyes. Puppy raisers could also be eligible to say earnings tax deductions for provides like meals and toys, however after all, most do it merely to offer again in such a particular method.

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Despite the dedication of the nonprofit’s present volunteers (and the cuteness of the puppies), the pandemic has led to a important scarcity of pet raisers. Panek hopes kind-hearted canine lovers will step up and assist out.

“We have an extended ready listing: about 200 individuals proper now who’re ready for a information canine,” Panek mentioned. “I’d simply plead for people who find themselves caught at house due to the pandemic or who want one thing to do to carry a pet into their life for the subsequent two years. It offers them the advantage of having a canine and of doing one thing good throughout a really unhealthy time. We would like to get extra pet raisers concerned in our program.”

To donate or volunteer with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, go to: www.guidingeyes.org

To donate or volunteer with Pilots to the Rescue, go to: www.pilotstotherescue.org

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Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, BBC News, Best Friends Magazine, the TODAY present’s web site, The Daily Beast, Happy Paws Magazine, AKC Family Dog, Modern Cat, and plenty of different publications.

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