WILLIAMSBURG—Three years ago, local psychiatrist Dr. Rick Campana started the Senior Dog Sanctuary of Virginia and set it up as a nonprofit to help save dogs from high-kill shelters. A high kill shelter is one that frequently euthanizes good and healthy animals simply because they don’t have the room or funds to sustain them.
Campana’s idea was to buy some land where he lives out in Charles City to build an actual sanctuary for senior dogs. A veterinarian friend thought he might be biting off more than he could chew and suggested that Campana use his money more efficiently.
Enter Pilots N Paws.
Since Campana and his good friend TW Taylor, owner of Williamsburg Drug Company, were both licensed pilots and had their own planes, they thought the best way they could help rescue dogs is to fly down to areas where high kill shelters had dogs scheduled for euthanasia and bring them back to people who were ready to adopt or bring them to no kill shelters. Campana bankrolls the flights, which cost approximately $2,500 each, through his Senior Dog Sanctuary. They joined a group of like-minded pilots called Pilots N Paws that help transport rescue animals from one area to another.
“What started all of this is, about ten or twelve years ago, my daughters were living up in the DC area and were volunteering at an animal shelter in Baltimore,” said Campana. “They called me on a Friday and said I needed to come and get this dog that was scheduled to be executed the following Monday. The dog was a pitbull and was the longest resident in the shelter. She was used as a bait dog in pitbull fighting and had all kinds of scars on her face. Nobody wanted her. Next thing you know, I’m in my car, driving to Baltimore, and I come home with this pretty girl who lived a beautiful life from that point on. I treated her like a queen for five years before she passed in her sleep at the age of fifteen. So, that’s what started this whole thing. That, and my love for dogs. I’ve had dogs ever since I was a little kid.”
Pilots N Paws is an all-volunteer organization that has no scheduled flights or fees. Volunteers register by filling out a questionnaire, then animals and pilots are connected through an online chat forum to work out the transportation details.
“I think we’re on our ninth sortie, which means mission,” said Campana. “TW and I have saved all kinds of dogs, even kittens—we had three mama cats with all their kittens once. I think dogs are Earth angels without wings, so no one knows they’re real angels, right? It just sickens me to see them get abused. People get these dogs at Christmas as show toys, then they get rid of them, or people surrender their dogs that are twelve years old because they don’t want them anymore, they don’t want to have to take care of them. That’s like surrendering your mother. You can’t do that stuff.”
To get everything kicked off, Campana put $65,000 of his own money into his rescue. That fund is down to about $44,000 now and Campana is hoping people will help by donating to the cause.
“I’m a senior dog myself,” said Campana with a chuckle. “So, I’m not really that sophisticated with the internet or crowd-sourcing campaigns like GoFundMe. But if people want to provide donations to help keep this thing going, they can send a check to 4427 Landfall Dr., Williamsburg, VA 23185. Checks should be made out to Senior Dog Sanctuary of Virginia. All donations are tax deductible.”
Since the planes Campana and Taylor use for Pilots N Paw sorties are smaller and aren’t pressurized, the two pilots like to keep their trips to around a 500-mile circumference from Williamsburg. That means they can serve all of Virginia, and North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and they have even flown as far north as Massachusetts, although the air traffic patterns around Washington, DC, New York City, and Boston make that a rough trip.
However, since Pilots N Paws is a national organization that has a transportational network that acts like a series of regional airlines. If there is an animal on the west coast that needs to get to the east coast, someone will take it from Point A to Point B, the next pilot will take it from Point B to Point C, and so on.
“Pilots N Paws is a national organization that’s all volunteer,” said Campana. “Every dime gets donated to the animals. There’s not one penny that goes anywhere else. It’s just such a wonderful program. And I feel with all the hate in the world today, with everybody hating each other, this is a great way of getting people diverted to good stuff, the stuff that counts. And that’s saving these dogs.”