Glenn Pagano sits in the cockpit of his Piper Comanche, his co-pilot Andy Davie by his side.
In the back is a 10-year-old pug, Rocco, whose family listed him on Craigslist "like a piece of furniture," said Pagano, a longtime detective sergeant with the Paramus Police Department.
Pagano and Davie met Rocco at an Ohio airport Memorial Day Weekend, and flew him to an airport in upstate New York, where he was united with his new forever family.
The pug was calm and happy for the duration of the flight, as if he knew his life was changing for the better, Pagano said.
Rocco is one of a handful of dogs Pagano has flown to safety since becoming involved with the animal rescue organization, Pilots N Paws.
Pagano has been flying since he was 8 years old, when his uncle took him. He became a certified private pilot in 2013. Two years later, he met Davie, of Stony Point, NY -- a commercial pilot with nearly 40 years of experience under his belt.
Davie, who flies a Comanche, knew someone selling the same one. The deal was if Pagano bought it, Davie would take care of all the maintenance. Long story short, Pagano bought the jet and secured the hanger next to Davie'.
The two became fast friends. Davie taught Pagano everything he knew.
"I get a good feeling out of being able to help someone out," he said, "just out of aviation."
First, they bonded over flying. Then came animals.
Pagano, who has adopted two rescue dogs of his own, found Pilots and Paws two years ago.
"I saw them on social media and thought, 'I'd love to do that, instead of burning holes in the sky looking for an airport to land at for a sandwich," Pagano said. "'Let me take the plane out and rescue dogs. What better of a way'"
Davie was on board right away.
"We're two people who love animals and love aviation," the detective said. "You combine, that you have the pinnacle of good."
A rescue will pull a dog from an abusive situation or locate one moments before it's set to be euthanized at a kill shelter. It's not unusual for foster or adoptive families to live states away.
When a dog is ready for long-distance transport, the rescue organization will reach out to Pilots N Paws, which sends an email alert to pilots across the U.S. The pilots then commit to a leg of a trip.
"Usually, dogs are coming at the 11th hour," Pagano said. "Pilots meet up with each other to hand off the dogs. We see a lot coming from Ohio or Chicago -- there seems to be less regard for animals in the western and southern states -- and more adopters on the East Coast."
Once committed to a flight leg, pilots meet up with each other at airports to hand off the dogs.
"We’ll walk them, give them water, talk to them pet them," Davie said. "Then they’re at ease. I don’t think we’ve ever had a dog that’s uptight about flying."
Pagano and Davie -- who take turns using each other's jets -- are usually the last connecting flight, flying out to meet other pilots in Pennsylvania to bring a dog to Albany, NY, Vermont, Connecticut or Massachusetts.
Rocco was the most recent transport. Others include Ellie -- Pagano's favorite -- a senior mastiff dog he and Davie flew last January. Then there was Pumpkin, who was scheduled for euthanasia, and Bambino, who Pagano scooped up from a kill shelter in Kentucky.
"All these dogs come with their own personalities," Pagano said. "They know they’re safe when they’re in the plane. They know they’re with good people. They usually fall asleep after looking out the window.
"They usually look around, sniff, and then after a while -- with the drone of the engine -- they settle right down and go to sleep."
COVID-19 had a silver lining for the animal transport business, Pagano said.
"Because many pilots being furloughed, many of them are looking for something to do.
"Two minutes after a Pilots N Paws email goes out, there are five pilots who answered saying they could cover different legs of the trip. Just like that, the entire trip was covered.
"Now you have all these dogs getting rides out," he said. "It’s so fantastic."
Pilots N Paws is something Pagano says he'll do as long as he can.
"It’s such positive momentum," he said. "It’s such good energy when you’re doing something like this.
"You can’t put your feeling into words to help these dogs out. If we can all do something good for God's beings before we check out, we're way ahed of the game."
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