Retired Military Pilot Has Flown Over 360 Rescue Dogs Closer To Their New Homes

Mason Joseph Zimmer
pilot with group of sleepy dogs huddled behind him in plane's cockpit
Facebook | David Tan

A former Air Force pilot has spent the last 10 years flying hundreds of rescue dogs and other animals to safer pastures as part of a fleet of volunteer pilots who do this at their own expense.

While many of us would be quick to recognize the hard and life-saving work that animal rescue workers do every day, it's easy to underestimate how important pilots can be to their mission.

Some have offered their services to save a staggering number of animals from euthanasia, while others have been the reason why an ambitious rescue effort in China and an even more pressing mission in Afghanistan were even possible.

But while one of those pilots has found a lot of fulfillment from the way he's volunteered in a similar way, he still maintains that the shelters he helps are doing more for the animals who hop aboard his plane.

After hearing about an organization called Pilots N Paws, a pilot of 40 years named David Tan decided to use his skills to help animal rescues transport some extremely precious cargo.

pilot cuddles dog while kneeling beside two-person Italian plane called Aermacchi SF-260
Facebook | David Tan

As he told Madison Magazine, this came after he spent 15 years as a rescue helicopter pilot with the Republic of Singapore Air Force and another 25 years as a professional aviator.

And now, he flies animals in need in a two-person Italian plane known as Aermacchi SF-260, which is similar to the craft he used while learning to fly all those years ago.

And while he became interested in joining the other 6,000 volunteer pilots working with Pilots N Paws back in 2012, what he's seen since has only confirmed how important that work is.

dog palcing paws around pilot's shoulder from back of plane's cockpit
Facebook | David Tan

In Tan's words, "There are just some terrible stories out there [about] how cruel people can be to animals, especially down south; the abandonments are horrible. A family would just leave them, discard them like a piece of old furniture or something. So that kind of gets me. I feel good when at least … I can contribute toward where they go."

And so far, he's fulfilled that role for over 360 dogs, 23 cats, three goats, a potbellied pig, and a bat named Bruce who was bound for an Ohio nature preserve.

pilot with group of sleepy dogs huddled behind him in plane's cockpit
Facebook | David Tan

And if that rescue record doesn't establish that Tan never knows who he's going to pick up on its own, that should definitely become apparent in this photo of one incident that saw him transport a mother dog and all eight of her puppies.

Since the pilots in this program fly at their own expense, they tend to work together and break their trips up in 250-mile legs. Together, they fly 15,500 rescue animals to new homes or facilities with more appropriate resources for them every year.

Tan usually undertakes at least one rescue flight per week, but that massive number should give you the sense that there's always more work to be done than he could ever keep up with.

But while some of the families he's helped have given him thank you notes with cash inside, Tan always gives that money back to the rescue organizations.

pilot with hand on dog's back in plane's cockpit
Facebook | David Tan

That's because he knows that they're on the hook for all of the animals' food and medical costs, so he sees them as needing the money far more than he does.

He's also not what you would call a glory-seeker and sees the rescues as doing the real work while he's putting something he would have to do as a pilot anyway towards a helpful purpose.

As he put it, "If you fly, it’s a perishable skill and you must keep current. So rather than take a flight and go somewhere for what we call the proverbial $200 hamburger, I’d rather be flying dogs.”

h/t: Madison Magazine