February 6, 2014

Pilots-N-Paws: Group takes animal rescue to new heights

By R. Scott Belzer
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A mother beagle named Lucy and her litter of seven got a new lease on life Monday afternoon, braving ice, snow and rain via the last thing one would expect — a charter airplane.

The eight dogs are the latest four-legged friends to benefit from Pilots-N-Paws, a 501c3 non-profit that links willing pilots to eager animal rescue groups. The Monday flight marked the first — but hopefully not the last — flight out of London in effort to put shelter animals into loving, welcoming homes.

Jim Jeffries, a resident of Crystal Lake, Ill., along with his flight student, Luke Meisner, 17, flew into London-Corbin Airport at about 3 p.m. after extending their flight time an extra hour and a half due to inclement weather.

“I don’t mind flying in the cold at all,” Jeffries said. “The cold weather is good for planes. The air is heavier.”

The flight on Monday linked Friends of Laurel County Animal Shelter — a hustling and bustling volunteer group in Laurel County — with AHeinz 57 Pet Rescue and Transportation, an equally passionate foster-based organization in De Soto, Iowa. The organization has been doing whatever it can to help cats and dogs find a home since its inception in October of last year.

Lana Smith, the volunteer coordinator for the Laurel County Animal Shelter, is one of the many who have made Lucy’s journey a reality. Her commitment played a major role in leading her to contact such a faraway foster program.  Those who know her best are quick to mention her seemingly nonstop efforts and drive.

“Lana has helped drop our euthanasia rate drastically,” said Tom Baker, director of the  local animal shelter. “The Friends of the Laurel County Animal Shelter stop in once a day — usually on their lunch breaks — to snap pictures and post them on Facebook.”

Amy Young, a transporter for Friends of Laurel County Animal Shelter, is also quick to praise Smith’s efforts in finding the animals a good home.

“This isn’t just a one-time thing for Lana; this is a 24/7 job for her,” Young said. “She’ll be searching for (families) on Facebook and updating posts well into the night and early morning.”

Young has also played a major role in covering great distances to find cats and dogs suitable homes. Only recently, her boyfriend has driven a dog to Elizabethtown to have it flown to St. Louis.

However, it was Smith who originally took Lucy home two weeks ago. She knew the young beagle was pregnant and that the animal shelter did not have the resources to properly aid the 1-year-old mother. She took Lucy into her own home to find proper foster care, but discovered her seven babies could not wait any longer.

“I didn’t know she was going to give birth so fast,” Smith said. “But she gave birth that very night.”

Smith then began seeking out foster homes and other rescue organizations. AHeinz 57 had a rescue team en route back to Iowa from Florida via car, but barely missed Smith’s distress call. The program knew of a foster home available for Lucy. Luckily, Amy Heinz — owner of AHeinz 57 — also knew of Pilots-N-Paws.

Pilots-N-Paws operates off of its website, offering forums and message boards for pilots and rescue teams. All that’s required for rescue teams is a logistical route along with sending and receiving airports. Pilots like Jim Jeffries volunteer their time and fuel to make sure dogs get where they need to be. According to Jeffries, it’s a cause worth flying for.

“I feel good doing it,“ Jeffries said. “Pets are defenseless, you know. They rely on us for help. I love dogs and I love flying. It’s a perfect combination for me.”

This was Jeffries fourth time transporting pets for Pilots-N-Paws. His previous trips have included Sheboygan, Wis.; Campbellsville, Ky.; as well as St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. He’ll either find the dogs a home tonight or send them on their way on another AHeinz 57 transport.

Jeffries and Meisner were only grounded for approximately 30 minutes before taking off again. The pair grabbed a quick bite to eat and as well as a quick coffee and soda before preparing for takeoff. They will land back in their home airport of Lake in the Hills by nightfall.

Meanwhile, Smith, Baker and Young said some quick goodbyes.

“I said I was going to cry once Lucy was up in the sky, but I’m doing okay,” Smith said, watching Jeffries and Meisner roll down the runway. “I just hope it’s not too loud in the plane.”

 For more information on Pilots-N-Paws, visit their website at For more information on the Laurel County Animal Shelter and how you can help Friends of the Laurel County Animal Shelter, call (606) 864-6319 or visit their Facebook page at