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London, Ontario-based pilots, Angelo Peterson-Valdez and Jeremy Hall, are using their passion for flying to help transport dogs from northern Ontario to medical care. The pair told Skies that the idea to launch Pilots4Paws came to them when a friend asked if they would be interested in helping a dog in grave condition.
According to Pilots4Paws’ GoFundMe page, “The lack of reliable veterinary services in our northern communities — primarily the lack of spay/neuters — has led to an overwhelming number of puppies being born.”
Hall shared: “[As with most] general aviation pilots, we just want to fly, and this is such a good excuse for us to get up in the airplane; to put hours in the book and give back to such a great cause.”
The cause is Paws of the North Rescue, described on its Facebook page as “an ethical Canadian rescue supporting the First Nations communities of the James Bay coast . . . located in the southern end of the Hudson Bay in Canada.”
Hall and Peterson-Valdez explained that during Covid-19 lockdowns, veterinarians stopped visiting remote communities, which has put animals in many northern areas at risk.
“They are all what we’d call ‘community dogs,’” said Hall. “They have been surrendered; none of them are strays.”
Without access to veterinary care, often the dogs become pregnant with puppies who are unable to be housed by the already overwhelmed community.
But it’s not all about flying with puppies; the organization also receives distress calls describing dogs who would not survive without immediate emergency vet care. Hall and Peterson-Valdez say this is how their first rescue experience unfolded and became their inspiration to get Pilots4Paws off the ground.
She was “a beautiful pup named Jessi,” recalled Hall. The female dog had sustained life-threatening injuries after being hit by a car in Moosonee, Ontario, and the emergency surgery she required was not available to her in the surrounding area.
“We got the call and accepted immediately,” said Hall. “She was found, left for dead, on the side of the road. At the time, the odds of her survival were low. She was flown (on a commercial airline) from Moosonee to Timmins, but Jessi desperately needed the care of a specialist in Toronto, and would not have made the length of the journey by land.
“This trip is upwards of 12 hours [by car], requiring multiple volunteer drivers. [However,] by air, we can get a load of dogs from Timmins to Toronto in under three hours, easing the stress on the animals and allowing for a greater frequency of trips,” he added.
The same day they received the call about Jessi, they made plans for an early departure to Timmins the next morning.
“By early afternoon, Jessi was safely in Toronto receiving care,” shared Hall. “[It’s] very likely she would not have survived the trip by land. [Today,] after many months of rehab, Jessi has made a [complete] recovery and is in a loving foster home in the GTA,” where she awaits her forever family.
“She was the one who got us passionate about [rescuing dogs in northern communities],” added Peterson-Valdez.
Hall’s personal aircraft, a four-seater 1963 Mooney M20C (C-FIVL), allows the pair to keep flight expenditures to a minimum. The removal of the back seats accommodates the transportation of up to 10 dogs at a time. According to Hall, a round-trip rescue mission comes at a minimum of $1,000 — a fraction of the cost of transporting animals on commercial airlines.
“We looked at aircraft rentals, and we thought if we’re going to rent for hundreds of dollars an hour, we might as well invest in an airplane,” explained Hall. “Our main ride is that Mooney, and we love her a lot.”
Hall — a current flight instructor at Crosswinds Aviation in London, with around 850 fight hours — recalled his fondest training memory during his interview with Skies: performing a solo circuit on an overcast day, along with a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130 Hercules.
“The only other airplane in the circuit was a CC-130. So, I said, ‘You’re seriously going to send me out for my first solo with the Hercules on my [tail]?'” he jested.
Deterred by Canada’s unforgiving winter weather, he completed his Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and instrument flight rules (IFR) rating at Epic Flight Academy in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Peterson-Valdez, who grew up in Sint Maarten in the Caribbean, fell in love with aviation while “watching planes take off” over the famous Maho Beach around the age of five. He’d point at the planes as they soared overhead and declare to his mother, “I want to be that.”
“Like, I think I actually wanted to be the plane,” he quipped.
Today, with Hall as his instructor, he is working towards completing his IFR rating. Sitting at just over 300 flight hours, he sees a future with the airlines.
But neither Hall nor Peterson-Valdez plan to retire from rescuing dogs any time soon.
Bigger than the sky
It’s important to the pair of pilots that each leg of their journeys have a purpose; as a result, neither direction is flown empty-handed. By virtue of the generosity of Peterson-Valdez’s church, Pilots4Paws are able to deliver food and medical supplies to the First Nation Communities.
The philanthropic pilots admit that funding and weather are the two most significant obstacles they face. And the success of each mission is at the mercy of both. To be able to afford to continue offering flights to as many northern dogs as possible, the pair decided to initiate a fundraiser with an opening goal of $10,000. All of the funds help with the steep costs of fuel, maintenance, and ramp fees.
“The current issue we’re having with C-FIVL is a broken generator, but I have one on order from the U.S. and we’re hoping to be back up soon,” said Hall.
In the long term, the Pilots4Paws pair hope to facilitate a larger team of volunteer pilots and become a registered non-profit.
“We’d really like to continue what we’re doing here with Pilots4Paws — to get incorporated and bring on more pilots and aircraft — and [create] a legitimate occupation that I can do on the side,” concluded Hall.
Follow along Pilots4Paws’ journey on Instagram and Facebook.
To donate to their cause, visit the Pilots4Paws GoFundMe page.
Trying to get a kitten that was rescued from Jamaica from Toronto to Edmonton. Know anyone that can help?
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