Optimist Case Study

GALLERY: Finding Forever Homes A Plane Ride Away

Throughout the country, nearly 6.5 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters each year. But while a shelter in Dallas might have too many potential pets to handle, another shelter in Jackson, Wyoming, may have a long list of hopeful adopters waiting for a chance to give a dog or cat a forever home. That’s where animal transport nonprofit Dog Is My Copilot comes in, to connect the dots.

There might not be a happier airport arrival than the Dog Is My Copilot Cessna 208B Grand Caravan plane landing at any of the mountain town airports from Idaho to Washington. Inside, soon-to-be companions wag their tails and bark with excitement, as if they know a new home is just around the corner.

Adopting an animal into your home, especially in the year 2020, is so fulfilling. —Jamie Johnson, Dog Care Coordinator, with Grizzly

Since 2012, pilot and nonprofit founder Dr. Peter Rork, executive director Kara Pollard, and the team at Dog Is My Copilot have relocated nearly 17,000 dogs and cats from overcrowded shelters across the southwest and California to shelters with room out west—nearly 80 percent of the animals come from Texas. Rork and Pollard are both based in Jackson, Wyoming, and launch each trip from a nearby airport in Driggs, Idaho. In 2020, Rork and his pilots made just over fifty trips. In 2021, he expects to make seventy or even more. “The one thing we can’t do is say no,” he says.

Without having the optimism to believe that we can always do better for these animals both in and out of the shelter systems, APA! wouldn't exist. —Julia Potter, Human Resources Assistant, with Dingodile

“I am the ‘bus driver’ and Kara is the scheduler,” Rork says. “But the real heroes are the people who go to these shelters every single day and care for the animals…and the reputation of Texas hospitality goes a long way. They are the friendliest, most organized, and most enthusiastic people to work with.”

Eeyore is a dog that had a rough start, but even after all the negativity still finds his smile everyday. —Andy Gomez, Lead Dog Care Behavior Specialist, with Eeyore

From Denver City to Abilene, the nonprofit works with Austin Pets Alive!, San Antonio Pets Alive!, Dallas Pets Alive!, Abilene Animal Services, El Paso Animal Services, and Laredo Animal Care Services, to name just a few, transporting animals all at no cost to either the sending or receiving shelter. APA!, along with their educational and outreach division American Pets Alive!, teams up with Dog Is My Copilot to move animals from overcrowded municipal shelters to other rescues around the state (including their own in Austin) and the rest of the country.  

Believing in positive outcomes for the animals we take into our care is the main reason I come to work every day. —Katie Mellon, Intake Coordinator, with Quinoa

“So many communities in our country are overburdened with pet overpopulation problems,” Pollard says. “But there are plenty of places that need animals, and the demand for pets is much higher.”

Dog Is My Copilot offers shelters with another option for placing animals into forever homes.

Dogs and humans have co-evolved to be together, and adoption helps us all be whole. —Caleb Ledbetter, Dog Care Specialist, with Tuesday

“These shelters have amazing workers and volunteers, but sometimes not enough resources to do what they need to do to save them,” she says. Thanks to Dog Is My Copilot lessening some of the load, groups have been able to put more funding into spay and neuter clinics and education.

I strongly believe in all dogs getting a second chance, and I’m so proud to be able to be a part of that. —Ryan Jones, Dog Care Specialist, with Mia

For an average trip to the Lone Star State, it might take close to sixteen hours roundtrip. “It costs us about $500 an hour to run the aircraft,” he says. “But if you are putting one hundred animals onboard the aircraft, it suddenly makes the scale of the cost per animal more reasonable.”

Oliver Lacosta, FeLV Program Coordinator, with Sam Hill

There is no denying the joy a furry friend can bring. This holiday season, if you’re looking to add a forever best friend to your family, Rork and Pollard encourage potential pet owners to look to your local shelter. If adoption isn’t in the cards, make sure and give a “Thanks!” to your local shelter staff and volunteers. And in the meantime, Dog Is My Copilot will keep relocating as many animals as they can until there are no more flights to be made.

Jenni with her pup Willie, who she adopted from APA! six years ago

Words by Kate Hull Heidenreich. Photos by Marshall Tidrick.  

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