The nonprofit, Canine Companions for Independence, does some wonderful work pair trained Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, as well as mixed puppies, with people living with disabilities – all at no cost. This is very important work, but because of certain travel restrictions around the pandemic, the charity has found it impossible to book the commercial flights they’d normally use to transport their dogs around the country.
But luckily enough, three private pilots from the Sonoma Jet Center in California are now volunteering to assist a nonprofit in flying the trained assistance dogs. The pilots have made it possible for the charity’s puppies to make it out to Southern California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Texas. The three pilots are 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.
He jested to Insider, “Once they get into the plane, they require less attention than my daughters.”
Hochberg mentioned that he often has his daughters accompany on him during his flights, which ended up working out perfectly in time for the puppy transport. Hochberg’s help in transporting the puppies actually inspired the pilot to make a change in his personal life – he got his own puppy, an American Brittany named Charlie. It turned out, the work he did was so satisfying that he ended up wanting to get a pup of his own.
Canine Companions for Independence were extremely grateful for the assistance as the pilots weren’t just volunteering their time, but their resources in addition.
The public relations and marketing coordinator for Canine Companions, Michelle Williams, spoke with Insiderand said, “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 originate at the Canine Companion’s headquarters in Santa Rosa, California, where they’re bred. When they’re eight weeks old, they get placed with volunteers in homes to be socialized and trained. They even learn as many as 30 different commands. Following this, when they’ve hit the age of around one-and-a-half, they are then ready to train at professional training centers where they learn even more advanced commands.
Because what they do is so important and vital to those with disabilities, Canine Companions are relying on the kindness of private pilots. And their next move is to search for private pilots with larger planes willing to fly to the east coast.
Hochberg said, “We’ve got the West Coast covered. The challenge is the dogs need to go all the way across the US.”
Additionally, Williams is hoping that they will be recognized for their work and taken seriously because, pandemic or not, people with disabilities still need access to canine assistants. And given that there are currently around 400 people with disabilities who are waiting on service dogs through Canine Companions, it is very important that they be able to continue getting their dogs to those who need them.
Williams explained, “If we were to put everything on hold, those people are going to wait longer for their assistance dogs.”
There definitely needs to be more emphasis on helping get these dogs to the people who need them.