Flying Tails: Pandemic impacts air travel for service animals

Flying Tails

OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) – The coronavirus pandemic has affected air travel for people and animals, and that is causing some problems for service dogs.

In tonight’s Flying Tails, we take a look at how the Bay Area’s “Guide Dogs for the Blind” Organization is using private pilots to transport their much-needed animals.

These little furry bundles of joy were supposed to be with their foster homes weeks ago but COVID has disrupted the logistics for ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind.’

“We have a cadre of about 2000 puppy raisers in the 10 western states as far east as Texas,” Christina Benninger, CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind, said.

Guide dogs trains and provide these amazing animals for hundreds of blind people every year but getting almost 900 dogs a year to and from their Bay Area campus to their puppy raisers, their training classes, and new owners have been very difficult during COVID.

New restrictions have made it tough to get the dogs on commercial flights.

“Airlines now are no longer transporting animals because of the fact that they’re flying smaller aircraft so we have had this dilemma,” Benninger said.

The pups are driven when possible but this 800 plus miles journey from the Bay Area to New Mexico puts too much strain on the drivers and the dogs.

Luckily, an anonymous private pilot volunteered to shorten a days-long trip to a couple of hours.

“If these pilots aren’t stepping up it basically, significantly impacts our ability to serve clients because we don’t have dogs,” Benninger said.

The five pups were loaded on the small private jet in Oakland for the flight to Las Cruces.

Waiting patiently in New Mexico were the puppies’ new foster parents who will care for them until their old enough for guide dog training. 

The pups arrived after a brief nap in flight.

“They were absolutely wonderful according to the pilot and the copilot. The puppies slept the whole flight,” Sandi Allsworth said.

The volunteer flight has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind.’

“Las Cruces is a little bit out in the middle of nowhere to be perfectly honest with you from is from a major airport,” Allsworth said.

Eventually, commercial flights will get back to normal but Guide Dogs says it may try to stick to using volunteer pilots whenever possible.

“Particularly with getting to some of these farther reaches, having a, more, having a more personalized delivery of our dogs rather than our dogs flying in cargo really is, is better for our dogs,” Benninger said.

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