Some people do amazing things for animals and Peter Rork fits into that category. He is up early in the morning, attempting to fit about 150 crates into a Cessna Caravan, and by 5:00 AM, he’s in the air.
For Rork, a 67-year-old that was a doctor before retiring, life is all about rescuing dogs and cats that would otherwise be killed in shelters.
He works through his nonprofit organization, Dog Is My Copilot, and transports animals from shelters that have a high euthanasia rate to deliver them to rescue organizations throughout the Southwest and the Rocky Mountains. He also delivers those animals to the Pacific regions of the country as well.
Rork has been doing this work for eight years, and in that time, almost 16,000 animals have been saved. He wasn’t considering flying pets across the country when he retired, but it has become a lifestyle for him.
He talks about how he left medicine when his wife died suddenly in 2012. He went into a depression for a while but a friend called and told him it was time to get back to life. He knew that his friend was right.
Although he may not have thought about flying dogs across the country, he always had an interest in aviation. He was 16 when he got his pilot’s license and he still wears the pilot’s watch he received from his mother on his 13th birthday.
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Rork lives with three rescue dogs and he found out that thousands of healthy animals are killed in shelters in the United States every day. He didn’t know at first that there were places where they killed nine out of ten stray animals, but when he learned about it, he decided to take action.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reports that some 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized on an annual basis within the United States. In 2011, the number was even higher at 2.6 million.
Rork decided that he could either be part of the solution or part of the problem, and he wanted to be part of the solution.
That is when he got in contact with Judy Zimet, an attorney friend who was familiar with how to start nonprofit groups. As of August 2012, Dog Is My Copilot became a nonprofit. It started small, but when he got a four-seater plane from his father, he started loading up pups and heading across the country.
After doing it a few times, he found that he was flying up to five hours for a single animal. He didn’t feel that it was efficient, so as the organization grew, he got in touch with Sharon Lohman, who started New Beginnings, a nonprofit rescue group in Mercedes, California.
As the Washington Post shared, Lohman talked about how she met Peter and said they desperately needed to help as many animals as possible. She considered it to be a life or death situation.
Rork says that 6 out of 100 dogs will make it out alive in that area, as there is a huge overpopulation of animals. He discovered it was like that in many places so he decided to fly the animals for her.
Rork flew for New Beginnings exclusively for a year until he hooked up with other groups and started transporting displaced cats and dogs.
As he says, he went from flying about 30 dogs at a time to flying up to 250. He also upgraded his aircraft to meet the growing demand.
It is more expensive to operate the larger plane, but he carries more animals so the cost per transport is much lower. He said donations come in to help fund the organization, as well as his financial contributions and a grant from the Petco Foundation.
Rork works along with three other volunteers and they fly six days a week. They have a network of 100 municipal animal shelters and nonprofit organizations throughout 15 states. Mostly dogs are transported but they do transport some cats from overcrowded shelters in areas such as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
Every time they fly they make up to five stops, and volunteers from rescue organizations and shelters come to the airport to pick up the animals.
One national outreach program, American Pets Alive!, is trying to stop the killing of animal shelter animals. They have helped many rescue operations and often send animals with Rork.
There has been a drop in animal euthanasia numbers over the past several years, and in part, it’s due to adopting and fostering programs. This is especially important during the pandemic because there has been a huge demand for pets and hundreds of applications for adoption.
According to the Washington Post, the executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington DC, Stephanie Shain, said she has seen something similar in her organization. It seems as if the community has been willing to step up in recent months. There are communities across the country that are also getting more involved.
There were rumors that dogs could carry the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic, so the flights were paused for a few weeks. The Center for Disease Control was concerned at first but is now saying there is no evidence to suggest that animals can spread the virus.
Dog Is My Copilot has been running full force since mid-April. Since they were down for a few weeks, they had a large backlog of animals, but they continue to be busy and are flying daily.
Rork considers the dogs to be a very important part of his life and he echoes the sentiments of many when he says that they rescue him more than he rescues them.
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