Think you’ve flown next to some questionable passengers on recent flights?
You probably don’t have anything on Jeff Bennett.
He’s flown with some real pigs. He’s not being rude. When Jeff Bennett talks about “real pigs” he actually means real pigs.
That’s just the beginning. “There have also been puppies, cats, rats, rabbits, tortoises, monitor lizards, hawks, falcons, pythons and boas,” he rattled off to me this week.
“And a partridge in a pear tree?” I added. Turns out, no to the partridge, but I just had to ask.
I love Jeff’s story because he’s managed to do something pretty incredible. He’s turned his hobby, his passion for flying into a purpose: saving animals.
The guy lives quite the nice life down in Key West, Fla. He owns a few businesses and flies his small plane whenever he can.
About four years ago, he read in one of pilot magazines about the need to get dogs from one state to another. “There’s an overabundance of puppies in places like Alabama and Georgia because a lot of people there don’t spay and neuter their animals,” he explained. “And there is very low foot traffic in a lot of these shelters. So, basically going into the shelter is a death sentence for a lot of these animals. We go up there and try to clean out the shelters as often as we can and move them to where they have a better chance of adoption— places with higher foot traffic.”
What started as giving a single dog a ride has now boomed into quite the furry frequent flyer program. Jeff retrofitted the back of his small plane to hold a bunch of crates. He gets his assignment from an organization called Pilots n’ Paws.
His record so far is transporting 51 puppies at one time. Can you imagine that racket?
“Well to be honest, you don’t even know they’re there,” Jeff countered.
“Once the plane gets up in the air most of them just quiet down and go to sleep. Out of all the animals I’ve moved I think I’ve only had five barkers.
As someone who has five rescue animals, I can’t help but wonder if these animals somehow know Jeff is their ticket to a better place, their lifeline.
“I’d never been one who thought they really knew what was going on,” Jeff said. At 1000-plus animals later, he’s changed his mind.
“You get a dog that’s in a kill shelter, within hours or even minutes of being euthanized, they seem to know that. You see that dejection. But by the time they get off the plane you can see a huge difference in their personality. A spark in their eyes.”
That spark and payoff that has Jeff Bennett flying high until the next load of critters he can carry to a better place and a second chance.
Daryn Kagan is the creator of DarynKagan.com. She is the author of “What’s Possible! 50 True Stories of People Who Dared To Dream They Could Make a Difference.”