Dog News

Pearl From the Storm: Air Transport Family Receives Unexpected Gift


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Pearl and Lemons
Photo Credit: Connie Collum of Connie Collum Photography

When Elisabeth (Lilly) Gardner and her husband decided to begin taking part in the innovative pet transport program, Pilots N Paws, they never imagined that their first transport would end up fatefully bringing them together with the Dalmatian that would steal their hearts. In fact, when they found out about Pilots N Paws, they were excited but vowed not to get too attached or bring home any more animals, as they were already living with three others-two dogs and a 30 pound cat who they rescued and placed on a strict diet!

They initially became interested in Pilots N Paws after hearing about a similar program in Canada. Elisabeth Gardner loved the idea and immediately wanted to contribute to saving dogs that otherwise might not be adopted. Since her husband is a pilot, it seemed the perfect way to help despite not being able to adopt or foster any more animals.

Pilots N Paws is especially unique because it makes transporting between states far easier than even ground transportation, often saving dogs from imminent euthanasia. Executive Director Kathleen Quinn describes why this is important:

“Much of the euthanasia is due to local supply and demand…For example, a dog in a Southern state or a Chihuahua in Los Angeles may not be in demand in those locales but fly them up to New Jersey and they find a home within a week.”

For this reason, the Gardners were particularly motivated to help, as their home state of Alabama has a very high euthanasia rate and many of those animals could possibly be adopted in another state. When they heard about a Dalmatian that needed to be flown to Tampa Bay, Florida to be adopted, they were especially excited, as Mr. Gardner had recently expressed his interest in Dalmatians. Elisabeth Gardner recounts their discussion:

“I have done a lot of rescues…but we were overrun. We were not looking to take on any more animals but my husband did say one day that he had always wanted a Dalmatian. So, we were excited to fly a Dalmatian. I kept my distance but he fell harder than I did at first!”

Pearl in Cat Bed
Pearl in Cat Bed

They were happy that the Dalmatian, Pearl, had a forever home waiting for her in Florida. However, the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse, bringing on monsoon season for Alabama. The shelter could not keep her because they were overrun. Elisabeth knew something had to be done for the sweet Dalmatian and decided to bring her home temporarily until the weather cleared up enough to fly. She was shocked at Pearl’s condition:

“So, I brought her to my house. The shelter told me what little they knew. She was incredibly thin and her skin was awful. One of her nipples had become infected. I didn’t even think she could survive the flight. So, I took her to my vet to see if she was even okay to fly…And the vet said she was about 10 or 11 years old. The rescue had said she was only 3 or 4 years old!”

When the adopter in Florida found out about Pearl’s age, she decided not to adopt, leaving Pearl in limbo once again!  Before being hasty to judge, though, Elisabeth Gardner explains that the adopter had recently had a Dalmatian die of old age and still had a younger, energetic Dalmatian seeking a play mate, something that Pearl could not be at this point in her life. So, Pearl was in the Gardners’ home and now without any potential adopter.

Elisabeth called the Dalmatian rescue organization in Tampa Bay to find out what would happen to Pearl. They explained that she could be placed in a facility especially for older dogs. Thankfully, they would not euthanize her, but she would probably live out the rest of her days in a facility rather than a home.

This just broke Gardner’s heart! To the delight of the team in Tampa Bay, the Gardners both decided that they couldn’t just give Pearl up and so they adopted her. Since then, Pearl has been thriving and the Gardners have never regretted their decision. She may sometimes steal the cat bed from Frankie, their large cat, but everyone loves her (even Frankie)!

Recently, they took Pearl to another appointment with the vet and everyone was amazed that this was the same Dalmatian that had come a few months back! She now looks gorgeous and you would never guess that she is an elderly dog, other than her missing teeth. She even likes to go on runs with Gardner! Gardner describes the joy she has had in caring for Pearl:

Pearl in Tutu2 (Small)
Photo Credit: Connie Collum of Connie Collum Photography

In the end, the Gardners’ first flight was a failed one in that they never even flew. However, it was the best thing that could have happened for everyone involved! They have now flown several successful rescue transportations, which Gardner describes as being “so rewarding and such a happy experience.”  


Pilots N Paws is an innovative non-profit organization dedicated to providing free air transport for rescue animals. They also provide such transport for medical needs animals, for therapy and PTSD dogs and for pets of military members being deployed who need a home for their pet, though their primary focus is rescue animals.

Their site is a forum with over 12,000 registered users including pilots, rescue workers and those looking to foster or adopt. In the forum, people post requests or needs for transport of an animal from one state to another, whether from one shelter to another or from a rescue to a home, etc. They also have over 3,400 dedicated pilots from around the US that take part in rescuing the animals.

Since Pilots N Paws founding, they have rescued over 40,000 animals and are looking to rescue around 15,000 for 2013.