Pilots volunteer to transport service puppies across the country after airlines can’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on all of our daily lives. Virtually every business and service has had to adjust to a world of social distancing.

Some of the impacts are unexpected. A nonprofit that provides service animals to those in need found their operations in jeopardy after airport restrictions meant they couldn’t get their dogs where they were needed.

But amazingly, some good samaritans swooped in to save the day.

Canine Companions for Independence is a nonprofit that provides free assistance dogs to people with disabilities. They are the leader in an important field: service animals can be life saving companions for those in need.

But their important work was threatened by the coronavirus. Canine Companions typically relies on commercial airlines to transport their puppies, getting them to volunteers across the country who will care for these service dogs in training.

They had to find another way: “Disability doesn’t stop in times of crisis, and Canine Companions still has over 400 people waiting to be placed with an expertly trained assistance dog,” CCI said in a statement.

“Even in these uncertain times, the Canine Companions mission is still in motion.”

But miraculously, the found a solution: three private pilots volunteered to transport the puppies!


The pilots are Martyn Lewis, Josh Hochberg, and Jeff Stewart, all of whom fly out of an airport in Sonoma, California.

The three men have volunteered their time and skills to transport the puppies around the country. They’ve delivered 108 dogs to places as far as Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Texas.

It was no small favor, and nonprofit was stunned to have such help: “Not only are they giving their plane, but their time, their fuel,” Michelle Williams, the group’s public relations and marketing coordinator at Canine Companions, told Insider.

“They’re going out for full days… it’s just incredible.”


The puppies have proven to be great passengers, and the pilots all say they’ve had no trouble and enjoy the company.

They had a big impact on one of them in particular:

“It’s more fulfilling than I could have possibly imagined,” Josh Hochberg said. “So fulfilling that I actually got a puppy of my own.” Hochberg adopted an American Brittany named Charlie thanks to his work for CCI.


The only downside is that the private planes can only go so far, while some puppies need to travel all the way across the country. CCI is hoping to find more volunteers who can fly from California to the east coast.

Still, these pilots have done an amazing service to keep this program running during these difficult times.

The puppies in the program live with their carers, being socialized and learning basic commands, before they will be moved to a professional training center when they’re about 18 months old.

The pilots’ actions ensure this process can continue, making sure that people can receive their service dogs as soon as possible.

“If we were to put everything on hold, those people are going to wait longer for their assistance dogs,” Williams told Insider.


Thank you to these pilots for giving their time to keep this important service going! It’s a great story of people helping each other during this difficult time.

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