At Potomac Airfield near Washington, D.C., you would expect to see pilots transporting politicians, spin-doctors and other bureaucrats to and from the nation's capital, but on a sunny day in July, Mike Young prepped his aircraft for a different type of mission. He, along with two canine-handlers, were preparing to pick up two foster dogs from North Carolina to bring them to their "forever" homes in Blue Bell, Pa.
"This is a voluntary effort," said Young, a longtime pilot with the volunteer organization "Pilots N' Paws" that works with rescue groups across the country to bring adopted animals to their new homes. "We don't charge anything for it. We do it because we like to fly and we want to save dogs."
Young was inspired to get involved in these rescue efforts while evacuating dogs from the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010. Following this experience, he jumped at the chance to join "Pilots N' Paws" and even adopted a dog from his second-ever rescue flight.
"These dogs are gems," he said. "They have so much love to give and people have so much love to give them that it's a shame that they're being put to sleep."
Most of the dogs that Young transports come from "high-kill" shelters, which often can only keep animals for up to 72 hours. The animals that do not get fostered or adopted within that time-frame face euthanasia -- a harsh necessity in many parts of the country where lax spay and neutering practices often lead to higher-than-average shelter populations.
This is a common reality for Rhonda Beach, who rescued the two dogs Young will transport today from a high-kill shelter in Person County, N.C.
"They use the gas chamber here," she said outside the local animal shelter. "They put them in ... a steel box -- and they put multiple dogs in at the same time and they turn the gas on. It's horrible. ... The carbon monoxide gets pumped in and the dogs actually suffocate."
More than 20 of North Carolina's 100 counties still use the gas chamber, a process that Beach has been trying to get lawmakers to outlaw in favor of more humane, yet often more expensive methods. In the meantime, she has been doing whatever she can to get as many dogs as possible out of the shelter and into carefully vetted adoptive homes through her non-profit organization, "Chance's Angel Rescue & Education."
In order to reach potential adopters in other, often more-urban parts of the country, Beach partnered with the "Pilots 'N Paws" organization.
"It's just an amazing resource for the rescue community -- and I have really taken advantage of it and use them quite a lot," she said. "[Young] is an awesome friend and pilot, he's just so dedicated."