Furry Flights: Local non-profit flies thousands of dogs and cats to find furever homes

(Jackson, Wyo.) - What do you get when you combine a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer? The answer ---> a charity that has saved the lives of more than 3,400 animals in just four years. Peter Rork, MD, a doctor and also a pilot, began flying animals that needed to be relocated through an online forum called Pilots and Paws in the 1990s. After his wife's death in 2012, Dr. Rork decided that he wanted to make a change and left medicine. He met with the local Animal Adoption Center and flew to San Francisco to speak with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). They directed him to visit a shelter in the Central Valley of California. "It was eye opening," said Dr. Rork. "They had taken up to 100 dogs a day and had a 94 percent euthanasia rate. I thought that this is where I can make an impact." According to Dr. Rork, the shelter would move about 20 animals at a time to other shelters using large vans. The drivers would do long trips straight through without letting the animals out. "That is tough on everyone, drivers included," said Dr. Rork. "So I pulled all the seats out of my airplane and we were able to get 20 -30 crates in my aircraft. I started doing that the long trips." Now, instead of 20 animals traveling 12 hours or more in a van without being let out, they would travel by air for only a few hours. Once Dr. Rork starting making the trips, he says it blew up and he began getting more and more requests to transfer animals. At that time, he brought on Judy Zimet, Esq. to help with the legal paperwork to form a non-profit called Dog is My Co-Pilot. Shortly after, he named Zimet the executive director of the organization. Zimet organizes the logistics of moving cats and dogs from overcrowded kill facilities to less crowded non-kill animal shelters in areas like Jackson Hole. With Dr. Rork's small plane, he was able to fit 30 - 40 dogs or 80 cats per flight, but the demand was increasing. "We hit a wall last year where we were doing the best we could and barely transporting 1,000 animals a year," he said. So the non-profit bought a Cessna Caravan, which was able to carry 85 dogs on its first trip. Dr. Rork says they will easily be able to carry 100 dogs per trip from now on and even more cats. With the new aircraft, they should be able to transport more than 3,500 animals this year. Dr. Rork says that the need is overwhelming. "There aren't enough hours in the day for me to fly. We are trying to organize the trips efficiently," he said. That means he makes multiple stops on his trips. This Saturday, he is flying 60 dogs out of Phoenix and dropping them at six stops in Wyoming and Montana. When praised for his work, Dr. Rork is modest. "The real heroes are the people who go into the shelters everyday who care for the animals until they can find a home," he said. "These people have a shoestring budget. They are the people who are really doing the heavy lifting. We are in the transport of these animals and we are here to help." Dog is My Co-Pilot is completely funded by donations. Learn more about Dog is My Co-Pilot and donate here . "Don't shop, adopt. If you can't adopt a dog, volunteer your time, if you can't volunteer, donate," said Dr. Rork. "It is not a dog problem, it is a people problem. This is a new chapter in my life." Dog is My Co-Pilot was recently featured in a USA Today's Humankind video. Watch it here. *Feature Photo: Peter Rork, MD and Judy Zimet, Esq. h/t Dog is My Co-Pilot