JOINT BASE CHARELSTON, S.C. –
As a pilot in the Air Force, it seems only natural to desire to fly on one’s free time. However, owning and using a personal plane to fly dogs in need is a different story.
Maj. Ron Johnson, 437th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations and C-17 Globemaster III pilot, bought his first private airplane and decided to use it to transport animals through the program Pilots N’ Paws.
“The pilots and volunteers are an enormous boon to the animal rescue community,” said Monica Rutt, American Brittany Rescue Southeast Regional coordinator. “We can only begin to express our gratitude for their generous efforts, donating their time and aircraft, all to help pets in need.”
Pilots N’ Paws was founded in February of 2008. Since then, with the help of volunteer pilots like Johnson, they have transported thousands of rescue animals, military working dogs and service dogs to safe havens provided by rescue families.
“[Pilots N’ Paws] is a non-profit organization dedicated to flying animals from kill to non-kill shelters or to an adopted family,” said Johnson. “Their volunteers donating their aircraft and time to move these animals around.”
Pilots N’ Paws allows Johnson to volunteer when and where he wants, giving him the opportunity to transport animals from coast to coast. Johnson requests a time and destination where he delivers the dogs in need.
“I just go to the Pilots N’ Paws website, put in distance I’m willing to travel, where I’m based and when I’m free. They send me an email when they have an opportunity that meets my requirements,” said Johnson.
Growing up around pets and having a natural love for flying was a perfect fit, all of which factored into Johnson’s decision to volunteer with Pilots N’ Paws.
“I really love pets. It’s very good volunteer work, something I actually enjoy doing and I like flying to new locations so it all works together,” said Johnson. “It’s definitely a very rewarding job, moving pets to foster families. Everyone is always really appreciative. It just makes everything worthwhile.”
Being an Air Force C-17 pilot, Johnson is used to carrying cargo from one location to another. And with this volunteer program, he also feels attachment to the precious cargo he’s transporting.
“Both opportunities provide gratification. With the C-17 you’re a big piece to the Air Force puzzle and you know the delivery you make will eventually make a difference,” said Johnson. “With Pilots N’ Paws, you get to directly see the impact you’re making. Knowing the dog is going to a good home is instant gratification. I don’t like the idea of a dog sitting in a shelter when there’s something I can do about it.”
Recently Johnson had the opportunity of transporting 9-month-old dog Zeus from Savannah, Georgia to Jacksonville Florida. The flight was one of the steps of Zeus's journey to his foster family, where he will be taken care of until a “forever home” is found.
“I’m really just grateful that I could be a part of Zeus’ story,” said Johnson. “It’s always rewarding to see pets like him get the care they need.”
Editor’s note: The coverage of Johnson’s volunteer work does not constitute official endorsement on behalf of the Department of Defense or the United States Air Force.