Wings of Rescue Expands With “When Pitties Fly” Program and Biggest-Ever Holiday Flight Plan



Wings of Rescue is a nonprofit rescue operation that transports dogs from high-kill shelters to rescues where they will have a better chance at being adopted. Founded in 2012, it began when two pilots who were already donating their time to a similar organization became frustrated with some of the rescue practices and felt they could be more efficient on their own. One of the founders and pilots, Cindy Smith, took a break from flying to give us some more information on the awesome work this group is doing.

Most of Wings of Rescue’s efforts focus on the West Coast, transporting dogs (and cats!) from California shelters, specifically Los Angeles County and Central Valley facilities, to rescues in Oregon, Washington, and sometimes even Canada.

Pilot Cindy Smith poses with one of the dogs saved from a Los Angeles county shelter. Photo credit Ric Browde.
Pilot Cindy Smith poses with one of the dogs saved from a Los Angeles county shelter. (Photo by Ric Browde)

The current adoption rate for the Wings of Rescue program is an impressive 100 percent. “We receive feedback constantly from our receiving rescues [about] how quickly the pets we fly to them are being adopted,” says Cindy.

Depending on the size of the aircraft being used, the group can can transport anywhere from 17 to 160 dogs at a time. It uses several planes, ranging from a small four-seater plane called a Diamond Star all the way up to a Metroliner cargo aircraft that it charters. Before the dogs can be transported, all must be examined by a veterinarian and given a health certificate testifying that they are healthy enough to fly. Any dog over 3 months of age must also have a rabies vaccination. Some of the pets it transports are spayed/neutered prior to flight, but, regardless, the dogs must be spayed/neutered prior to adoption, and proof is required.

Cindy’s plane, Norma Jean. (Photo by Cindy Smith)

For Cindy and the Wings of Rescue crew, the most memorable flight is always the Holiday Airlift. The first year, they flew 100 dogs to one rescue location using only one plane. This year, the Holiday Airlift will occur on Nov. 20, and they will be using 17 planes to transport 1,000 dogs and cats to locations across the entire Pacific Northwest and even to New York.

Another special Wings of Rescue program is “When Pitties Fly.” Cindy had noticed the incredible number of dogs labeled “Pit Bull” at shelters. She wanted to highlight their plight by showing the public just how many were dying due to the lack of adopters in California. The organization created the special initiative to fly Pit Bull-type dogs to rescues in the Pacific Northwest.

Steven Latham, founder of Shelter Me, helps Yehuda Netanel, founder of Wings of Rescue load in a shelter pup (left to right). Photo credit: Jim Nista/
Steven Latham, founder of Shelter Me, helps Yehuda Netanel, founder of Wings of Rescue, load in a shelter pup. (Photo by Jim Nista/

Cindy’s own Pit Bull, Bitty, was rescued from a Los Angeles shelter. He had been turned in by his owners because they were moving and could not take him with them. He has lived with Cindy for six of his eight years of life, and absolutely loves people.

“What is sad, is that [people] do not love him at first,” says Cindy. “Bitty has been a great ambassador for his breed by showing the public that dogs with Pit Bull heritage are not fire-breathing dragons.”

Cindy’s beloved Bitty. (Photo by Cindy Smith)

In the When Pitties Fly program exclusively, Wings of Rescue has flown 40 Pit Bulls to new homes and has another flight scheduled for this month. As a whole, Wings of Rescue has saved approximately 14,297 pets, and that number is growing by the day. Its goal is to fly 100,000 animals to safety, but the founders have hit some turbulence along the way, including the loss of one of their airplanes, which had flown more than 4,000 dogs. The plane belonged to Yehuda Netanel, a founder of Wings of Rescue.

The group ended up purchasing a used airplane to add to its fleet, which will ultimately allow it to transport up to 100 dogs per flight.

The biggest obstacle by far, though, has been donations. “We operate on 100-percent donations,” says Cindy. “None of our board members receive a salary, and all of us put in more than 40 hours per week (more like 60 hours per week) toward our cause.” Wings of Rescue is also very open with its financial practices and keeps the public informed on purchase decisions. It posts its Form 990 on the website.

A group of volunteers working to get the dogs ready for flight. Photo credit: Wings of Rescue
A group of volunteers working to get the dogs ready for flight. (Photo courtesy Wings of Rescue)

To keep saving Pit Bulls and other shelter dogs, Wings of Rescue relies on volunteers, fans, and the media to spread the word about its cause and encourage donations. Its efforts certainly warrant the title of Dogster Hero!

Read about more Dogster Heroes:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby and Odin (cats) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

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