It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted commercial air significantly. Vacations were cancelled, business trips were delayed and visits to loved ones were paused. But slightly less widely discussed were the non-profit organizations whose missions relied on commercial travel – specifically live animal transport programs. The abrupt commercial air changes placed these organizations into a seemingly impossible situation.
Canine Companions for Independence is one of those organizations. The non-profit organizes the breeding, training and placing of assistance dogs for those with disabilities or other obstacles in life. Volunteers train the dogs for several years before they go to one of the organization’s final training facilities and then on to their forever homes. This movement takes significant air travel and COVID-19 halted that mission.
With hundreds of dogs ready for training, halting the mission wasn’t an option. Thankfully for the organization, Jeff Stewart along with several other general aviation pilots stepped in.
“It’s a nationwide organization that really has a tremendous mission of training these dogs to help people with various disabilities be able to function much better,” Stewart explained. “They have placed dogs with people for post-traumatic stress disorder, for autism (particularly kids) and a whole variety of different conditions.
“I was asked if I would be interested in helping out transporting some dogs in the areas that we go to and I indicated that I would be more than happy to participate,” Stewart added. “During this period, myself and other pilots have moved over 100 dogs and have about 60 more to go.”
Stewart’s company, Blue Star Gas, is based in California and his business travel mostly takes employees up and down the western coast of the United States. Between 14 locations in five western states as well as industry meetings in the Midwest and Texas, Stewart’s company is constantly on the move.
For these missions, Stewart’s BEECHCRAFT KING AIR B200 turboprop was best fit. He could load the dogs’ crates into his aircraft and go farther than if he used the company’s smaller airplanes.
Stewart said transporting these dogs is his first time utilizing his company’s aircraft for a humanitarian purpose and he’s thrilled he made the decision.
“It is really wonderful to be able to be involved with a program that is so well-run and organized and has such a tremendous mission. To be able to support and achieve that mission particularly in a time when we are all so challenged, it’s wonderful,” he said.
He also added that in challenging times, it’s nice to see additional benefits to his aircraft, which he’s used for decades primarily as a business tool.
“It is stories like this that demonstrate so clearly how general or corporate aviation are able to really make a positive impact on critical missions. It’s wonderful to be able to highlight those things,” he said.