Rescue dogs

Pilot transports rescue dogs to forever homes

David Tan of Middleton, Wisconsin, spent 40 years in the cockpit as a military, commercial and private pilot and he’s still in the air, but now his co-pilots are mostly rescue dogs. Since 2012, he’s transported more than 360 dogs to safety as well as 23 cats, a pot-bellied pig and even a bat that he helped deliver to a rescue stash.

Tan transports the animals in his Aermacchi SF-260, an Italian two-person aircraft used for aerobatics and by countries with smaller air forces.

It all started in 2012 when he heard about Pilots N Paws, a 501(c)(3) organization that brings together pilots and shelters to transport pets to safety or new permanent homes.

“The intention of Pilots N Paws is to provide an environment in which volunteers can come together and organize or schedule rescue flights, foster care or overnight shelter, and all other related activities,” says the organization’s website.


Tan is one of 6,000 volunteer pilots who donate their time, planes and fuel to transport pets in desperate need of help. Typically, a rescue will require several pilots who fly about 250 miles before transferring the animal to another aircraft.

Tan says most of his rescue missions are in southern states. In March, Tan picked up a rescue named April who was abandoned by her owners because she went to the bathroom in the house, so they took her to the vet to be euthanized.

“There are just terrible stories out there [about] how cruel people can be to animals, especially in the south; the dropouts are horrible,” Tan told Madison Magazine. “A family would just leave them, throw them away like an old piece of furniture or something. So this kind of gets me. I feel good when at least… I can contribute where they go.

Tan also works one-on-one with a network of lifeguards he’s met over a decade of flying puppies across the country.

His job is usually to transport the animals between airports, but sometimes he gets the chance to introduce them to their new forever families. “You kind of say, ‘I hope you have a good rest of your life,’ you know?” he says. “I hope these people love you forever. “”

Sometimes the families give him a few dollars for his efforts, but he never keeps the money. He gives it back to the rescuers, as they are still in desperate need of funds to pay for the medical bills associated with the animals they rescue.

“They’re always short, especially when it comes to animal medical care,” Tan said. “It’s so expensive these days.”


Flying requires constant practice, so pilots need plenty of flight time to maintain their skills. Tan thinks her job rescuing dogs helps her stay in top shape.

“If you’re flying, it’s a perishable skill and you have to keep up to date,” he says. “So rather than getting on a flight and going somewhere for what we call the proverbial $200 burger, I’d rather be flying dogs.”