Death Row Dog Pilots Plane and Pack of Peers from Kill Shelter to Freedom

by Brian Beker

For a dog rescuer, every life saved is a triumph. And every once in a while, something happens that reminds everyone just how meaningful their work is.

This is one such story. The stars are a handsome young dog and the humans who engineered a truly Great Escape for him and his six-member pack of death-row dogs.

We begin inside a harrowing Los Angeles kill shelter. With one of the largest discarded pet populations in America, it is filled beyond capacity with the unluckiest of animals. They are the abused and abandoned, the sick, the injured and the starving. Every dog is frightened in the anguished din of hundreds – sometimes thousands – of scared, confused animals.

Many of them never make it out for a walk, let alone make it out alive.

Not all of the shelters are kill shelters, but decimated budgets and the sheer weight of numbers mean that some still are. Shelter workers don’t like having to put masses of animals down any more than anyone else, but that is their reality, day in and day out.

Los Angeles also has some of the most dedicated dog rescuers anywhere. It must feel like they’re sweeping sand off a beach sometimes, but they fight relentlessly to save one life at a time.

Phyllis Smith-Vanboxtel Osh, of All Breed Dog Rescue, worked for the release of six dogs from the Devore Animal Shelter on May 9th. She and her colleague Kathrin Schmidt, who spend hours each day plotting escape routes for death-row dogs, arranged for them to be taken in by The Grace Foundation, a magnificent animal sanctuary in northern California. There, they will live on a huge ranch, be loved and taken care of, until they are adopted. If they are not adopted, then Grace will become their new home. They will never be discarded again.

What makes this rescue operation unusual is that the dogs were flown to freedom on a private plane, in an operation coordinated by an outfit called Pilots and Paws.

Santa Monica Airport, on the west side of Los Angeles, is famous for its billionaire traffic and celebrity aviators like Harrison Ford, Tony Bill, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Working there without any pretensions to celebrity is pilot Zach Bryson.

Zach has a ways to go before he hits 30, and yet he’s already a sea captain, a chef and a commercial pilot. With his earnings as a ferry captain, Zach bought an airplane so that he could develop an aviation career. If you’re willing to turn the wrenches to keep it flying yourself, as Zach is, a 30-year-old airplane runs about as much as a nowhere-near-loaded Toyota. America’s tarmacs are littered with them. Fuel prices have driven their value through the floor.

Combining forces with Phyllis and Kathrin, and dispatched by Paws and Pilots, Zach flies rescued animals to destinations within a few hundred miles of LA. He does it several times a week. The rescues are not only easy on the animals, they’re economical. The cost for a trip like the one to Grace costs about $250 in donor-paid gas. Zach contributes the flying, the plane, his labor on it, all for nothing. That means about $30 per dog to transport them 300 miles. Can’t beat it.

Back to last week’s operation.

After being pulled out of a harrowing shelter, this pack of six dogs found themselves out on the open space of an airport, where they were introduced to Zach.

You don’t do this kind of work if you don’t love animals. Zach understands the need for his passengers to decompress. He makes them feel welcome right away.

Before loading them gently on the airplane, Zach makes sure everyone is walked, calm and ready before they go anywhere. Normally, the passengers lie down and go to sleep.

Send me your huddled masses…

 
So far, so good, but then the magic happened.

One of the dogs was the curious type. He relished every minute. Imagine what it must have been like – sprung from a shelter cage, riding in the ground in the plane – like a remembered car ride, and which dog doesn’t love going for a ride? Then leaving the ground, and flying up in the air.

Just as some small percentage of humans naturally love flying, this young boy was absorbed by the experience. He loved it. His brain, stifled in a cage, about to be put to sleep, was back in high gear. Ears up, forehead wrinkled, gaze fixed. He was experiencing life. And he was filled with gratitude, which made for a pretty good reward for a rescuer.

So much so that Zach accorded him the honor of flying left seat. It was a symbol of freedom, a sign of a return to that good dog of that sovereignty every animal deserves.

And, like everything with dogs, it was fun.

Okay, so maybe the headline is a bit of an exaggeration. The dog didn’t really fly the airplane.

On the other hand, he certainly had an experience that changed his life forever. That handsome, curious, intelligent young boy, and all the other passengers flying with him, flew to a new life. Look at the picture at the beginning again – it’s wonderful to see a sharp young dog get a new lease on life and take special pleasure out of every minute. That’s some dog.

Without this rescue team, he would have been just another one of the dogs who die every day in American shelters, forgotten by now.

Who knows what it was like for him. Who knows what he thought or what he will remember. Who knows what he’ll be seeing in his dreams.

One thing is for sure – it was one stunning rescue.

Hats off to Zach, Phyllis, Kathrin, The Grace Foundation, Pilots and Paws, and the donors who keep them flying, for giving those dogs, and all the others they help, the wings to fly them home.







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38 comments

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    May 17, 2012 11:48 amPosted 2 years ago
    Cheryl F

    It is people like you Zach, Phyllis, Kathrin, The Grace Foundation, Pilots and Paws, (and donors) who make this country look like somewhere I love to live. You are the finest examples of all that is good about humankind.

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      May 17, 2012 3:04 pmPosted 2 years ago
      Anonymous

      I agree with you 100%! Thank you so much for your love and work on behalf of these amazing dogs.

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      May 18, 2012 8:44 pmPosted 2 years ago
      Anonymous

      Copy that. I’d like to say thank you to all these every day heroes for saving these wonderful animals. This story brought tears to my eyes.

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    May 17, 2012 11:56 amPosted 2 years ago
    Paul
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    May 17, 2012 11:34 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Tracey

    Oh what a wonderful story. I wish that the pilot would adopt him and then the dog could fly all the rescues in the future as an ambassador. I love this story. Great job by all the people invovled. Keep up the good work you flying Guardian Angels.

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    May 18, 2012 5:48 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lisa E

    “Sniff” – warms my heart and made me choke up a little…

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    May 18, 2012 8:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Stu

    YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

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    May 18, 2012 8:07 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    Thank you so much…it left me teary eyed but joyous!

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  • May 18, 2012 8:13 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Linda

    fantastic story, love it when people help animals, they r true angels on earth.

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    May 18, 2012 8:17 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Rebecca

    Tried not to cry, but the pic of the dog at the end pushed me over the edge! lol What an amazing story and thank you to all the heroes who do this amazing and important work! <3

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    May 18, 2012 8:20 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Christin

    He is so precious! Hugs to everyone who made this happen. I’m kind of embarassed but I’m crying happy tears for this adorable boy!

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  • May 18, 2012 8:21 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Marj

    Zach..now that’s a real superhero.

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  • May 18, 2012 8:49 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Judy

    what a story..thanks to all u wonderful people!

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    May 18, 2012 8:49 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Amanda

    Thats awesome. Thanks to everyone involved in rescuing these dogs!!!

    Woof woof! Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

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    May 18, 2012 8:52 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kathy

    That is why my only dogs ( 2 ) are rescues. Thank you for all you do from the bottom of my heart. <3

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  • May 18, 2012 8:54 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jaclyn

    Thank you.

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    May 18, 2012 8:58 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sherri

    AWESOME. AMAZING.

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    May 18, 2012 8:58 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    This story is a gift to the reader & Zach is a gift to the world. <3 Thank you <3

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  • May 18, 2012 8:59 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Marg

    amazing human,grateful animals.wonderful story :0

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  • May 18, 2012 8:59 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Susan

    great story…shared

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  • May 18, 2012 8:59 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Erin

    Daniel Rogers might be interested in this story

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  • May 18, 2012 9:15 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Diana

    Thanks. Shared

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    Reply
  • May 18, 2012 9:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Liz

    Love stories with happy endings for animals! =^..^=

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    Reply
  • May 18, 2012 9:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Rebecca

    I clicked on it 3 times and the story doesn’t come up.

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    May 18, 2012 9:40 pmPosted 2 years ago
    BB

    Leaves my heart feeling warm and my eyes full of tears for the happy ending for these six lucky dogs. I wish things like this could happen to all of the needy dogs that need parents!

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    May 18, 2012 9:44 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Barbara

    Hooray..Love it…:)

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  • May 18, 2012 10:00 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    Two of these dogs have already been adopted out to forever homes! Wonderful people to work with!

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  • May 18, 2012 10:00 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Theresa

    Wonderful ending for these dogs…so many never make it…Wonderful work, Wonderful people!!!!!

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  • May 18, 2012 10:22 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Deb

    How awesome God bless you Zach and the rest of the rescuer team that made this happen!

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  • May 18, 2012 10:22 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Patti

    Ditto.

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  • May 18, 2012 11:20 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Thelma

    What a wonderful story. From a dirty cage to the clear blue sky. I bet he thought he died and went to Heaven!! God Bless these wonderful people who work so hard to help these beautiful animals who do not deserve to be treated this way. Love you guys!!!

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    May 18, 2012 11:21 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Brian

    Thank you all for the kind comments. Come join us at http://facebook.com/thedogintheclouds. I’m just the writer, but Zach and the rest of the gang are fans of the page, too!

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    May 19, 2012 7:47 amPosted 2 years ago
    Maggie Owen

    Great story!

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  • May 19, 2012 10:32 amPosted 2 years ago
    Tinker

    This is the way to start a day! Reading a story like this give me hope for mankind! Kudos to all involved!

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    May 19, 2012 11:33 amPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    An amazing and inspiring story.

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    May 20, 2012 2:29 amPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    Good job Zack. It must be nice to carry gratefully passengers.

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    May 21, 2012 9:17 amPosted 2 years ago
    lam dawg1

    hey guys great work ,,keep up the good work,,,,,wish u and your families health wealth and happiness always ,,,,,,,

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    May 27, 2012 9:35 amPosted 2 years ago
    Colleen

    Blessed be the lucky 6! We kill 4 million a year in this country!
    Thanks for saving even a few…SPAY OR NEUTER YOUR DOGS!

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