Flying Waxahachie couple rescues homeless dogs by plane

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Pilots N Paws volunteers use their love of flying to give hope to abandoned animals

Corey Bonnell of Waxahachie has found a way to combine his lifelong love of flying with his compassion for animals.

Whenever the retired Marine and experienced pilot gets the urge to take to the sky, he checks the Pilots N Paws website, finds a rescued dog in need of transport and heads out to Mid-Way Regional Airport with his partner, Chris where the two board their Grumman American Tiger and take off to make sure that a fellow sentient being’s life doesn’t end 72 hours after being taken to an animal shelter.

Corey says he and Chris like to embark on an animal rescue mission at least every other month or more and that the flights take them throughout Texas and nearby states.

“We’ve been up to Oklahoma — rarely would I go to New Mexico, but Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. That’s about my area,” he says. “We have relatives in Florida — if I was going to Florida and we had space on the plane, we would try to hook up with a rescue [to see] if there was one that needs to go Florida.”

Photo of Corey and Chris Bonnell with dog inside of airplane
Chris and Corey Bonnell fly rescued dogs to new homes.

Corey says it’s not only dogs that pop up on the Pilots N Paws website in need of being transported. Cats and other animals need rescuing, too, but so far his only nonhuman passengers have been dogs. The non-profit organization that runs the website coordinates flights between pilots and non-profit rescue organizations and shelters that for one reason or another need to get a specific animal to a new location where they can be fostered, sheltered or rehomed. The pilots who fly the rescued animals do so at their own expense.

Corey says a typical scenario that illustrates the work of the pilots is when someone who sees a photo of an animal who’s destined to be euthanized in a shelter far away wants to save that animal’s life but must do so before the kill-date. They then call on a rescue organization that can step in just in time to save the dog, cat, pigeon, rabbit — whatever — and get the animal to an airport where a Pilots N Paws volunteer can then fly the rescue to the next leg of the transport and ultimately to the animal’s new home.

All the animals flown through Pilots N Paws are rescues — no for-profit breeders allowed — thus all the volunteers involved are saving a life and helping with the pet overpopulation problem that has made local animal shelters the end-of-the-line for the poor animals who wind up in one.

Photo of Chris Bonnell in an airplane with a dog
Chris Bonnell in the cockpit with a happy rescue.

Chris says that while Corey flies, she processes the paperwork that accompanies every rescue. She’s been on all but one of the flights and enjoys spending time in the sky with her partner in their joint mission to give a happier ending to the story for each animal they fly.

“Besides just being able to spend the time with my husband, it’s just nice to be able to do something for people that really need it — and for animals, especially,” Chris says. “We have a huge heart for animals. We have rescued a couple of dogs ourselves. And so being able to connect dogs that other people have given up on with families that are ready to nurture them, it’s just a very satisfying thing.”

Although there are volunteers who do animal transport by car, some types of dogs have a tendency to escape during one of the multiple stops a ground transport may involve. So for these difficult passengers, flying is the preferred option. Chris says their first rescue flight involved a crate-averse Husky who’d been abandoned in the Florida Everglades.

“A lot of people dump animals in the Everglades knowing that the constrictors and alligators will take care of it, which is awful,” she says. “Huskies are apparently known as escape artists so [the rescue groups] like to fly them rather than do a car caravan.”

Photo of a black dog in a small airplane
Another of the lucky dogs who’ve been flown by Chris and Corey Bonnell.

Corey says he’s had a pilots license since he was a teen back in the early ’80s and that he inherited his love of flying from his father who actually built his own aircraft. Now taking to the sky as often as he and Chris get a chance, he says that coordinating with Pilots N Paws gives their otherwise leisure-time pursuit a worthy mission to complete.

“Rather than just go punch holes in the sky with your airplane and burn up dead dinosaurs, you have a purpose,” he says.

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