If there were a test for helping pups, Paul Steklenski would pass with flying colors. The U.S. Army veteran became certified to fly planes in 2014 and started Flying Fur Animal Rescue shortly after to transport animals from kill shelters in the South to no-kill shelters in the Northeast. So far he's rescued around 760 animals! We chatted with Paul about why he started the lifesaving organization, and what he wishes people understood about animals in the shelter system.
What inspired you to start Flying Fur Rescue?
My own pup Tessa was brought all of the way up from Tennessee before I adopted her at a local shelter. Once I learned how much location plays a role in whether or not these animals get adopted, I decided to use my ability to fly to get them from point A to point B...and the rest is history. I did not choose this calling, I believe it chose me.
How do you determine which dogs to transport?
We transport any animal that has a pledge from a rescue or shelter. Our biggest flight to-date had 23 animals, many of which were puppies and kittens.
What is the dogs' experience on the plane?
Better than you might think! Usually, they curl up for a nap or look out the windows—the noise and vibration naturally calm them. I normally will have one pup sitting next to me, either cuddling or sleeping.
What can people do to help Flying Fur Animal Rescue save dogs' lives?
We are a very small organization. I do all of the operations myself and am highly focused on efficiency. Anything people can do to spread the word about our mission or raise money for donations is always greatly appreciated.
What is one thing you wish more people understood about rescue dogs or the shelter system?
Spay, neuter, and adopt, adopt, adopt. It is so important. And volunteer at a local shelter if you can—nothing soothes the soul quite like spending time with an animal.
Tell us more about a particularly memorable rescue mission you've had?
A while back, we rescued a dog named Henley who was probably one of our more difficult cases. He was pulled from death row with just hours to spare. Several men had abused Henley in the past. When I met him at the airport, he couldn’t stand to be near me in light of the trauma. I’ve never had that sort of reaction from a dog before. After a few weeks of rehab, I was able to fly up and visit him—his progress was amazing and it was a wonderful reunion!