This Pilot Has Saved Thousands of Animals by Flying Them to No-Kill Shelters

Dr. Peter Rork uses his pilot's license for maybe the best cause ever: to save animals from kill shelters and help them find homes.

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Jun. 14 2023, Updated 9:11 a.m. ET

Some people get their pilot's license later in life to start an adventurous new hobby. Dr. Peter Rork isn't just "some people." The retired orthopedic surgeon decided to use his flight skills to help animals in need.

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He started the nonprofit Dog Is My CoPilot in 2012 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Now This News reports. He had safely transported 20 to 30 rescue dogs and cats in his single-engine plane, moving them from shelters where they were about to be euthanized to no-kill shelters, where no animals are at risk of being euthanized.

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He packed those dogs into his plane "like a game of Tetris" on that first trip. Since then, DIMC has saved over 16,000 animals from being euthanized by transporting them from kill shelters to places where they would be safe and looked after until they found forever homes. 

The organization now has a team of volunteers and has received a grant so they can purchase a plane that can fit up to 251 crates. Now This reports, "According to the ASPCA, approximately 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the U.S. The organization offers this statistic in contrast to the nearly 2.6 million animals that were euthanized annually in 2011."

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Rork was so moved by the numbers of animals who were euthanized in shelters each year and knew that he could do something about it. "When I saw how huge the problem was, I decided that's the way I wanted to go," he said.

His wife died in 2012, and Rork was "broken." He didn't know how to move forward. But he found meaning in a conversation with a friend and started his nonprofit months later. "It was the missing ingredient," he said. "I don't know where I would be today ... This was my way out."

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In the first year of Dog Is My CoPilot's existence, Rork transported 1,000 animals with the help of his partner, real estate attorney Judy Zimet. The organization mostly helps cats and dogs, as those are the animals that face the greatest euthanization rates.

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Rork's friend Kara Pollard helped him figure out how to transport more than 100 animals per flight, as opposed to the 20 or 30 from his first trip. Now, he's able to stop at several shelters in different states on each journey.

Most of the time, he goes to shelters in Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona to pick up the animals, and then he'll take them to shelters in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. 

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"We only transport from facilities that use euthanasia as part of their tool to control population to organizations that will never put down animals," he said. He isn't able to do personal drop-offs to families. He only works with shelters. But you can rest assured that those shelters will do everything they can to find loving homes for those animals once they arrive.

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Rork says that even if you can't pilot a plane full of animals to a no-kill shelter, there are ways in which you can help the cause. "Adopt, don't shop, and spay and neuter," he said. "Every animal that you save saves two; it's the one you save and the one that takes its place."

If you can't have an animal at home, consider donating to shelters or volunteering. "The real heroes here are the people who do go to the shelters every day," he said. "You're never gonna find a group of more committed people than animal rescue groups." If you want to support Dog Is My CoPilot, head to their website for ways in which you can help.

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