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Volunteer Pilots Are Flying Puppies Across The Country So They Can Start Their Service Dog Training

Private pilots are volunteering to help nonprofit deliver trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities. Earlier this week, three pilots out of Sonoma Jet Center in California took the adorable puppies on board for their first adventure on a journey to become assistance dogs.

Nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence pairs trained Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and mixed puppies with people who have disabilities at no cost.

Volunteer pilots have made it possible for the organization to deliver puppies to Southern California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Texas.

via Canine Companions for Independence

Since travel bans and social distancing guidelines have been installed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, commercial flights Canine Companions normally rely on to transport the precious and hardworking puppies have become too unpredictable.

Canine Companions partnered with pilots Martyn Lewis, Josh Hochberg, and Jeff Stewart at Sonoma Jet Center for their latest puppy transport.

Hochberg, who owns the Sonoma Jet Center, revealed that before his experience with Canine Companions he’d never flown with puppies before.

“Once they get into the plane, they require less attention than my daughters,” he told Insider.

Hochberg brings his daughters along for flights, which works out great— because the girls wear them out, playing before they take off, so the puppies can sleep through the entire ride.

Hochberg has been so inspired by his work with Canine Companions during the difficult period of the pandemic, his family welcomed its own furry friend, Charlie, an American Brittany.

“It’s more fulfilling than I could have possibly imagined,” he said. “So fulfilling that I actually got a puppy of my own.”

The nonprofit staff is grateful to the pilots who have stepped up to donate time and resources to this important cause.

“Not only are they giving their plane, but their time, their fuel,” Michelle Williams, public relations and marketing coordinator at Canine Companions, told Insider. “They’re going out for full days … it’s just incredible.”

The heroic dogs are bred at Canine Companion’s headquarters in Santa Rosa California. When the puppies are 8 weeks old, they are placed in temporary homes where volunteers socialize the dogs and teach them around 30 commands.

The dogs are ready to learn at professional training centers where they are taught more advanced commands when they’re about one and a half years old.

To ensure continuity of this vital service throughout the pandemic, the next step for Canine Companions is to find private pilot volunteers with bigger planes capable of flights farther east.

“We’ve got the West Coast covered,” Hochberg said. “The challenge is the dogs need to go all the way across the US.”

Williams urges people to realize their work is essential.

“Disability doesn’t disappear in times of crisis,” she said.

There are currently 400 people waiting for service dogs from Canine Companions.

“If we were to put everything on hold, those people are going to wait longer for their assistance dogs,” Williams explained.

And who doesn’t want to go for a ride with a sweet puppy for a good cause? Now all you need is a plane!

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca