On Saturday, June 6th, 2021, national nonprofit Canine Companions welcomed seven puppies to John Glenn International Airport, Signature Flight Support, which offers private and general aviation ground handling. The puppies that arrived, are beginning their journey to become future service dogs. Flying the puppies from Northern California’s Sonoma Jet Center, near the nonprofit’s National Headquarters, to destinations throughout the country, a volunteer pilot flew three puppies to Colorado, two to Virginia and seven to Columbus.
During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, flying the puppies through commercial airlines, which usually transport the puppies to their volunteer puppy raisers throughout the United states, wasn’t an option. Volunteer pilots stepped up right away to help, offering to use their own private planes.
Owner of Blue Star Gas, Jeff Stewart, also one of the volunteer pilots, shares “We move around a lot for our business, and any time we can help particularly such a tremendous organization, which is Canine Companions, we like to do so.” He goes on to say, “There was a big need last year with the shutdown of the live animal transport due to COVID, we were just happy to be one of the pilots that stepped up from the Santa Rosa base where the breeding center is,” says Stewart.
From first offering to help to now, Stewart has made around 20 runs over the last year. He’s flown over 100 puppies, who all sleep comfortably and safely on his plane.
“Over the course of the last year, when there’s so much, so many headwinds and challenges that everybody has dealt with, it’s nice to be involved with an organization that really makes a difference,” says Stewart.
Chris Iams is one of the volunteers who received one of the puppies on Saturday. Currently raising his 16th puppy, he’s been a volunteer with Canine Companions for a little over 20 years.
For him, it’s exciting watching the puppies grow, train and then, the most amazing part, watching them match with a client at the end. Iams has even met a few of the clients who received dogs that he helped raise and care for.
“I think Canine Companions is an absolute great organization, I love the fact that they have so many volunteers helping them out, they’re very organized in how they do things, they’re very caring not only for the dogs, but for the puppy raisers and the final recipients.” He continues, “The fact that they give the dogs away for free to the final recipients is incredible, these are people who really need them,” says Iams.
Jessica Harris is another volunteer puppy raiser who picked up an adorable puppy on Saturday. This is the third puppy she is raising for Canine Companions. Harris first got involved with Canine Companions back in Kansas City, where she lived for 18 years. After moving to Ohio in 2017, she continued her volunteer efforts with the organization, including volunteer puppy raising.
For her, it’s exciting being able to provide care, support and training for the puppy, but she said it’s never not emotional when she has to say goodbye.
“A lot of people say, how can you do this, how can you give up the dog, I can never do this and I think when you realize and you’re able to see the dynamics that somebody else needs the dog more than you, then you put extra heart and sole in it and you really want to see the dog succeed and get placed with somebody that really has a need,” says Harris.
It’s being able to see the end story, meeting the graduate who receives the dog and then keeping in touch with them throughout their growth with the dog. She describes every person involved with the organization, no matter what their involvement is, as an extended family member.
“It’s honestly an extended family, once you get invested, you’re hooked,” says Harris, “There is just so many passionate people, so many people that want to help see recipients receive these dogs, recognizing their disability or their personal situation warrants a physical dog that can help them long-term and it really is just a huge family,” Harris adds.