What do pot bellied pigs, monitor lizards, and an Afghan Steppe eagle have to do with Folly Beach?
Answer: They are among the thousands of animals transported to and from rescue shelters, hospitals, and forever homes by Pilots N Paws, an organization founded by Folly resident Debi Boies. The list of animals also includes goats, hamsters, military working dogs from Afghanistan, dolphins, rabbits, Burmese pythons, guinea pigs, bear cubs, and yes – even rats. According to Debi these exotic animals are the exception and greater than 90% of the transported animals are dogs and cats.
Debi loves all animals but she is especially enamored with Dobermans, so much so that before founding Pilots N Paws she co-founded Doberman Association Network, Inc., a national Doberman rescue group. It was her love of Dobermans that led Debi to found Pilots N Paws. In 2007 Debi was adopting Brock, an overlooked Doberman facing euthanasia in a Florida shelter, and she needed a way to transport Brock to her farm in South Carolina. She wanted Brock to avoid the stress of a seven hour road trip and was elated when Jon, a pilot friend, offered to fly Brock from Florida to South Carolina, just a 90 minute flight. The adoption of Brock was the inspiration for Debi to create a website to connect pilots with shelters and rescue families. In 2008 Debi became the Founder and President of Pilots N Paws, a 501(c)(3) organization.
Fifteen years later Debi is still the President of Pilots N Paws which now has over 6,000 volunteer pilots. Their mission is to connect their pilots with rescue animals in need of transportation to better situations. To date, Pilots N Paws has transported more than 200,000 animals.
Debi is an overflowing fountain of heart-warming and tear- jerking anecdotes involving Pilots N Paws success stories.
- Cindy the brown bear cub who Pilots N Paws transported to a specialized treatment facility after she was found crawling through the embers and ashes of wildfires on her elbows and knees because her feet were so badly burned.
- Kevin the 5 year old boy with terminal cancer whose wish through Make-A-Wish for a puppy was fullfiled when Pilots N Paws delivered to him a Chihuahua puppy.
- Nine beagles who after spending most of their lives in crates and enduring two years of pharmaceutical testing, were no longer needed and faced euthanasia. Thanks to Pilots N Paws and the Beagle Freedom Project, the beagles were rescued. Debi recalled how she teared up when she watched the beagles’ paws hit grass for the very first time.
- Baker, a dying 3 mo old kitten, was nurtured by a vet until he was strong enough to survive surgery where both of his eyes needed to be removed. He was dubbed Baker because he incessantly made biscuits (kneaded his blanket) in his kennel. When a forever home was found for Baker, Pilots N Paws flew him from the vet’s location in Ohio to his home in New Hampshire.
- Mitch, an Afghan Steppe eagle whose lower wing was shattered by a training bullet, was rescued by a Navy Seal who managed the red tape to have Mitch transported back to the US. Upon arrival, Pilots N Paws transported Mitch to his forever home in Berkshire Bird Paradise in NY. Read about Mitch in Saving Mitch by Barbara Chepaitis.
- Summer, a 53 pound dolphin was stranded as an infant, malnourished and without a mother. After 6 months of rehab Summer was stable but lacked survival skills to be released in the ocean. She needed to be transported to her permanent home. Summer was the first marine passenger for Pilots N Paws. She was transported in 10×6 ft children’s pool and had a support crew of 2 veterinarians and 2 handlers in wetsuits. Oxygen, ultrasound equipment, and a crash cart with EKG rounded out the payload. You can visit Summer at her permanent home at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL
- More incredible stories are available at the Pilots N Paws website pilotsnpaws.org. Don’t forget your tissues.
Debi and Pilots N Paws have received numerous awards over the years to include: National Public Benefit Flying Award, Rescue Organization of the Year, Dog Rescue and Relief Award, and the Broadway Barks Award/Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore. Debi admitted that her most prized accolade is the certificate from NOAA Fisheries for Pilots N Paws’ participation in the 2014 cold stunned sea turtle rescue in which over 400 Kemps Ridley sea turtles in New England were stranded. Pilots N Paws pilots were responsible for saving the lives of 190 turtles by transporting them to facilities in Florida.
Do you want to help?
Pilots N Paws is always in need of pilots. If you are an interested pilot, contact Pilots N Paws. Debi reminds us that you don’t have to be a pilot to help. She encourages everyone to start by getting involved locally. Create a neighborhood watch for lost animals. Prepare a local To Do list advising neighbors on how to go about finding a lost pet. Create a Folly Beach Lost & Found Pet Facebook page. Volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter. For Folly residents Pet Helpers would be a good place to start.