'Dog Is My CoPilot': Giving New Lives To San Antonio Strays

Mar 22, 2018

It’s the pre-dawn hours at Port San Antonio Kelly Field and the scramble is on.

The challenge is to fit 49 dogs in their kennels into a single engine plane, a Cessna Caravan. 


“They’re all single destination? They’re all going to Boise?” asks Dr. Peter Rork, who is the pilot, owner of the plane and founder of the nonprofit, Dog is My CoPilot.

“All Idaho. Yup. Idaho Humane Society,” said Clare Callison, the director of operations for San Antonio Pets Alive.

This morning she’s directing volunteers with the loading of this three-dimensional canine puzzle, while soothing these stressed out pooches.

“The tiniest tiny ones can go up here,” said Callison, while directing a volunteer to a crate of puppies.

San Antonio volunteers load up crates of dogs heading to Boise, Idaho.
Credit David Martin Davies

For Callison, the loading of these dogs is the payoff for weeks of work. On this day, it started early with foster caretakers like Amy Gastauer and Connor Capdau dropping off their rescue, who they renamed Bruce Wayne.

“He’s an orphan and he has Batman ears,” Capdau said.

For Bruce Wayne, this was a death defying adventure worthy of his namesake because weeks earlier he was on the list at the San Antonio Animal Care Service to be euthanized.

Despite the efforts of San Antonio to be a “no kill” city, every month, dozens of healthy dogs are killed because the number of strays outpace the number of families willing to adopt, Callison said.

It’s estimated that there are more than 150,000 stray dogs and cats roaming the streets of the Alamo City.

“This is Timber, a little puppy,” Callison said.

Loading up crates of dogs into the Dog Is My Copilot plane before flying to Boise, Idaho.
Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio

Timber was a stray due to be euthanized. But this morning, Callison is giving him a quick walk before placing the pup on the plane to Boise, Idaho.

She said one solution they’ve found to combat the San Antonio stray problem is to find cities with a dog deficit.

“It’s pretty insane how sweet all these dogs are. But they would have been euthanized if it wasn’t for this program. So that’s pretty incredible," she said. "For puppies like this too, I mean, he’s perfectly healthy, happy. He’s going to adapt well. He’s the perfect transport candidate."

WATCH | San Antonio stray dogs getting ready for flight

Rork then radios the flight control tower.  

“Animal rescue holding, ready to go,” he said.

With the dogs on board, its wheels up and off to Boise. The dogs settle in.

But amid the sounds and smells of a plane full of dogs, Rork, who has been flying his entire life, said he is used to it. In fact, he wouldn't have it any other way, considering what he saw in many animal shelters.

On the ground in Boise, Idaho volunteers grab crates of dogs to bring to the humane society.
Credit David Martin Davies

“It’s hard to call them shelters if they are killing half of them," he said. "Think about it: There are 8 million animals in shelters. Four million a year will not make it out.”

But flying rescue dogs across the country does require money, and Rork is determined to keep costs down so the transports can stay in the air.

“This year we’ve been able to decrease our administrative cost to 6 percent," he said. "So six cents of every dollar is going to the organization, paying for stamps and stuff like that. And 94 cents of every dollar is going directly to animal transport.”

The flight of 1,600 miles takes roughly eight hours. The arrival in Boise is met with volunteers, who quickly grab the crates, load up the vehicles and head out to the shelter.

“This is why transfers and relationships between shelters and humane societies work, because an overpopulation there and we have a need for dogs here. So it’s a great partnership,” said Dee Dee Bowring, shelter manager of the Idaho Humane Society.

Dee Dee Bowring, director of shelter operations at the Idaho Humane Society, holds a new arrival from San Antonio.
Credit David Martin Davies

The Idaho Humane Society has not euthanized dogs due to lack of shelter space in years, she said.

“Boise is a very dog friendly community and the San Antonio dogs are always highly adoptable," she said. "They are super social, friendly. We’re just really blessed to have a great community, great support.”

After the San Antonio dogs arrive they are fed, washed, walked and matched with their medical records. For the dogs that are healthy and recovered from the trip, they are put up for adoption the next day.

“I’m adopting Red here. I’m renaming him Ranger,” Adam Rose said.

Adam Rose and his new dog Ranger leave the Boise Humane Society
Credit David Martin Davies

Rose said he liked the playful nature of this San Antonio rescue dog and he’s taking him home.

“It was meant to be. Hence, the name Ranger. He’s a Texas Ranger,” he said.

Ranger’s life in Boise is going to be an active one, Rose said.

“He’ll be swimming, hiking, … hanging out with the fam,” he said.

And with that, Rose and Ranger walked out of the shelter to start a new life together.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi