Dr. Robert Hamilton wears many hats — optometry specialist, pilot, and even pet rescuer. What began as a way to increase time spent in the air became part of a much bigger mission of saving animal lives — a venture Hamilton hopes to expand in the future.
“The group I work with is called Pilots N Paws, a nationwide group of pilots who volunteer their time to fly rescue missions for animals. Families who will adopt a distance away, or shelters moving animals from one place to another can use this; it saves the animals,” Hamilton said.
Many of the flights are considered relay flights consisting of a first, middle, and last leg. According to the Pilots N Paws website, volunteers can exchange information regarding animal transports on the discussion board, coordinate and schedule transports, share rescue stories, and recruit volunteers.
“Our site is intended to be a meeting place for volunteers engaged in the valuable services of rescuing, sheltering and adopting animals, and volunteer pilots and plane owners willing to assist with animal transportation,” the site reads.
Hamilton, who became a pilot eight years ago, saw this as the perfect opportunity to give back. Each pilot only has to fly a few hours each direction, so usually the rescue trips are just day trips. Pilots build their flight time in the process, making the mission of animal transport a win-win in this regard.
“As a pilot, you need to fly regularly to not get rusty. I found a way to keep current and try to do something good at the same time,” Hamilton said.
Four years ago, when Hamilton began fulfilling rescue flights for Pets N Paws, he went on many of the trips with his daughter. When she left for college, his son began joining him on the flights.
“My first trip was with a chihuahua and a lab; my helper was trying to keep the dog from licking me in the back of the head or jumping in the front seat with me. My son helps me now in the back trying to keep them happy,” Hamilton said.
While Hamilton has mainly transported dogs and cats, he said that some of the flights through Pilots N Paws have included exotic animals such as snakes or sea turtles. His biggest mission included taking 10 cats in one trip.
“The kennels were stacked from the seat to the ceiling with cats that particular trip. They were quite vocal,” Hamilton said.
The rescue pilot enjoys helping to save animals and get them to a new home, saying he feels like he is giving them a chance at a decent life. He has been a part of many inspirational stories along the way.
“One trip I brought a service dog to an injured soldier who had a traumatic brain injury. I brought the dog to him, a labrador, as part of a several-leg trip, from St. Louis to Cincinnati,” Hamilton said. “Each flight trip is different. Sometimes you are the middle leg, the pickup or dropoff. If it’s a shorter job you might be the only pilot.”
As far as future plans, Hamilton wants to continue doing this for a while. His ultimate goal is to become a pilot for Angel Flight delivering medical transportation for patients that need to go to a faraway location and can’t drive that far due to their health status.
“I could fly a patient to their appointments or treatments. In order to become this type of pilot, I need a certain amount of pilot experience.” he said. “I plan to continue to fly animals until I get enough hours to do angel flights.”
For more information about Pilots N Paws, visit https://www.pilotsnpaws.org/ .