Pilots Are Volunteering To Help A Nonprofit Deliver Trained Service Dogs To People With Disabilities

Faith in the goodness of humanity has been restored as private pilots are now volunteering to assist a nonprofit in flying trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities who need them. Recently, three pilots from the Sonoma Jet Center in California took on the mission of flying some precious puppies to be trained to become assistance dogs.

The nonprofit, Canine Companions for Independence, works to pair trained Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, as well as mixed puppies, with people living with disabilities – all at no cost. The pilots volunteering have made it possible for Canine Companions for Independence to get puppies out to Southern California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Texas.

Because there are current travel bans and lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic, all the commercial flights that Canine Companions would normally use, have all either been shut down or become scarce and difficult to book.

That is why the nonprofit went into a partnership with pilots Martyn Lewis, Josh Hochberg, and Jeff Stewart – all based out of the Sonoma Jet Center.

Hochberg, who owns the Sonoma Jet Center, revealed that this was his first time ever flying with puppies.

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

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Hochberg is often bringing his daughters on flights with him – which worked out wonderfully for the puppy transport because they kept the pups entertained the whole time. Following his work with the nonprofit during the pandemic, he was inspired to get his family a little canine companion of their own: an American Brittany named Charlie. As he stated, the work was a lot more satisfying than he ever could’ve imagined, so he wanted to get his family a pup of their own.

The nonprofit’s staff are beyond grateful for the assistance they received from the pilots who volunteered not just their time but their resources as well.

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

All the puppies come from the Canine Companion’s headquarters in Santa Rosa, California. When the puppies are 8 weeks old, they get placed with volunteers in homes to be socialized and trained – learning around 30 different commands.

From there, when the dogs reach the age of about one-and-a-half, they are then ready to begin their training at professional training centers where they are taught even more advanced commands.

In order to make sure that this service continues despite the pandemic, the next move is for Canine Companions to find private pilots with larger planes who are willing to fly to the east coast.

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

Williams is also asking for recognition that the work they’re doing is essential – pandemic or not, people with disabilities still need their canine assistants. And it is getting dire since there are currently around 400 people with disabilities who are waiting on service dogs through Canine Companions.

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

This is definitely something that needs to be addressed – can’t leave people in need hanging.

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Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.
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