DURHAM — Sammy, a 90-pound yellow Labrador retriever with a broad head and a busy tail, lived in his forever home for nearly six years — until the baby came.
Someone dropped off Tucker and Jasmine, two black Lab puppies, at the Wayne County animal shelter about two months ago.
On the second Sunday in September, the three dogs waited at a Smithfield airport for a plane to fly them to a new chance.
Durham resident Rick Gutlon would fly the first leg of the 525 nautical mile journey from Smithfield to New Hampshire. He is one of about 3,000 pilots in 49 states who volunteer for the Pilots N Paws network, which has transported more than 10,000 rescue animals since the South Carolina-based nonprofit was founded in 2008.
Pilots and rescue organizations meet and organize trips through www.pilotsnpaws.org in an effort to move dogs and cats facing euthanasia to homes and shelters that have room. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that animal shelters in the U.S. care for 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats every year and about half are euthanized.
This weekend, pilots and other volunteers plan to participate in Pilots N Paw’s fourth annual rescue flyaway. The event aims to raise awareness and to relocate about 300 North Carolina dogs to shelters and foster families from Florida to New Jersey and Ohio.
Out of options
Sammy takes medication to prevent seizures, and the woman who surrendered him said he had started causing problems such as getting in the trash and snapping at another dog.
“(Sammy) has two strikes against him. His age and his medical condition,” said Joy Frannicola, who along with her husband runs a dog rescue operation at their Ruff Creek Ranch in Smithfield. “Luckily, I have contacts.”
One of the contacts, Lisa Borst, with Rosemont Labradors in Hinsdale, N. H., has helped Frannicola place more than 100 dogs, Frannicola said. Jasmine and Tucker were dropped off at the Wayne County shelter, which has a policy to euthanize dogs and cats after 14 days if the shelter is full, according to Shelter Director Vicki Falconer. Over the last six months, however, the shelter has taken in 3,460 dogs and cats and euthanized 1,868.
At the airport, Jasmine and Tucker were placed in a crate in the back of the Gutlon’s plane, Sammy was hooked to a leash in the back seat and they lifted off West Point, Va.
Flying to a new life
Gutlon, an Information Technology consultant, has flown 23 rescue flights and transported 57 dogs.
His four-legged passengers have included a mom and seven puppies; Rhodesian Ridgebacks; and a Dalmatian named Dolly, who was found outside of a church with cigarette burns on her paws.
“I swear she absolutely knew we were there to save her,” Gutlon said.
They met pilot Terry Friedman, of New Jersey, at a West Point airport. Then Friedman flew the dogs to Old Bridge, N.J., where Mike Wilt, an engineer who lives in New Hampshire, flew them the last leg to Keene, N.H.
Borst picked up the three dogs in Keene drove them about 30 miles to her Hinsdale facility, Rosemont Labradors.
The dogs’ chances to be adopted are better there, Borst said, because families come from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts to adopt.
“We have a significantly low number of stray dogs,” she said. “Zero to 1 percent.”