Volunteer Pilots Give Wings to Animals in Need

It was a cold February day in 2015 when Arlington Animal Services found a crippled corgi dog that was dumped in a city park. Emaciated and covered in fleas, he had wounds from dragging his useless hind limbs, paralyzed as a result of a genetic degenerative spine disorder. He was infested with heartworms. The veterinarian could not definitively diagnose the paralysis, so she classified the little dog as “rescue only” or he would be euthanized.

The shelter called longtime animal rescuers and corgi-lovers, Sandy Grambort and Lou Guyton, hoping they would give him a chance. They took him to their small farm in Mansfield. “We did not have personal resources to take on a crippled dog, but I posted him on several corgi rescue Facebook pages,” Grambort recalled. “Soon, a family in Kansas spoke up for him.” After many long conversations with the family and helping them assemble resources, all that remained was a ride from Texas to Kansas. On March 7, Aiden CorgiPants met Fort Worth Pilots N Paws pilot, Michael Reddick, and off to Kansas they went.

Pilots N Paws is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that transports rescued animals like Aiden to give them a second chance at life. There is no charge for their services. The pilots donate their time and resources.

Reddick spent 10 years in the U.S. Air Force specializing in aircraft maintenance. He then worked for General Dynamics (now Lockheed Aeronautics) in Fort Worth for 33 years, spending his career as a Quality Assurance inspector on the F16 Fighting Falcon. After retirement, Reddick got his pilot license. His wife, Mary, who often accompanies him on rescue flights, talked him into getting a plane. They now are flying their third plane. “I wanted to do something rewarding with my plane,” Michael said. “I looked into Pilots N Paws and signed up.”

Since December 2011, Reddick has rescued 32 dogs and flown them to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. The dogs travel in style in an experimental homebuilt RV-6A designed by Van’s Aircraft of Aurora, Oregon. Reddick has logged over 1,600 hours on the plane.

His favorite passenger by far was Aiden CorgiPants, Reddick says.

“Sandy contacted me about a corgi that needed to get to a family in Hays, Kansas, for an experimental spinal treatment at Kansas State University in nearby Manhattan,” Reddick said. “I don’t usually fly that far, but I decided to help Aiden out. We made an instant connection. He sat up front with me instead of being in a crate behind my seat,” he continued. “It was really hard to let go of Aiden. I followed the family all the way to their car to ensure he was made comfortable.” 

Less than one month later, Aiden came back to Texas to live with Grambort and Guyton. The adoptive family had become overwhelmed. “We worked with Corgi Aid and Humane Society of Flower Mound (now Humane Tomorrow) to get Aiden a complete neurological exam and fitted with a wheelchair cart, and six weeks of physical therapy with a local canine physical therapist and certified rehab professional. Close to $3,000 was donated for his care,” Grambort said.

The disease was relentless. It robs dogs of spinal functions beginning in the hind limbs and progressing forward, eventually to include all four limbs and loss of control of bodily functions. As heartbreaking as it was, when Aiden lost his joyful smile and spark, his adoring family chose to euthanize him in November 2015. “He was surrounded by us and his beloved therapist, L.J.,” Grambort said.

“Without people like Michael, thousands of animals like Aiden, especially those on their ‘last legs’ or facing their last chance in crowded shelters, are given the opportunity to make new families smile again with the love of a rescued pet,” Grambort added. “Pilots N Paws and men like Michael give new meaning to the phrase ‘the sky's the limit.’ They are real-life angels, with wings of metal."