According to the ASPCA, nearly 1.5 million dogs are killed in shelters because of medical, overcrowding, or transportation issues. But as one of the most charitable cities in the United States, Memphis produces people who rise above and beyond the issue.
K9 Air Rescue is a local non-profit that provides air transportation for dogs in danger of euthanasia to no-kill shelters or, ideally, their forever homes.
Eric Earles, Chris Hilty, and Jeremy West, the founders of the organization, dedicate their time and aerial talent to ensure the rescue of these underprivileged pups. Eric and Chris, who are also two of the pilots, want to spread the word about their non-profit:
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Q: Where did you get your passion for helping animals?
Chris: I’ve always had dogs growing up, and I adopted my first rescue in undergrad. Even though she wasn’t a purebred and I didn’t know her full story, Holly was a great dog. Knowing that I helped save an unwanted animal really resonated, and every dog I’ve had since has either come from a rescue or directly off the streets.
Q: What are the goals of K9 Air rescue? Where do you want to see the organization in 10 years?
Eric: You can see our mission statement on the website. But really we are trying to reduce the euthanasia rate of dogs and to start we are going to focus on our home base — Memphis and Memphis Animal Services (MAS). In 10 years, I want us to have a facility where we can hold, treat and rehabilitate dogs. I also see us having our own planes at that point.
Chris: By then, we hope that MAS has not had to euthanize any animal for space, and that we have helped achieve the same goal at other shelters in the Mid-South.
Q: Why flying? What sets your organization apart from others who do rescue caravans or shift driving?
Eric: While the dogs are generally calm when being transported, it does create some anxiety. Flying the dogs reduces the time they are stressed, and with medical dogs, makes sure we can get them to the destination as quickly as possible, and back into the care of a licensed vet. A lot of times we can take what would be a 4 or 5-hour shift drive, and turn it into one leg via air, cutting down a quarter of the travel time.
Chris: With enough support, we hope to be able to shorten this even further. Shorter transports mean less stress on the animals, which is better all around and critical for those in need of medical care. We do not charge for our services, relying 100% on donations to fund our transports. Ground transportation can come with a fee that may be difficult for cash-strapped shelters and rescues to pay.
Q: Are there any volunteer opportunities for Memphians who want to help with K9 Air Rescue?
Eric: Yes! There is a need for volunteer social media management and content creation. We’d also like to establish partnerships to host awareness events in the area. In the near future, we will need volunteers to pick up dogs from local shelters and transport them to the airport, and possibly foster them overnight.