When most of think of shelter dogs being whisked off to safety from appointments with sure death we think of coordinated movements between ground crews and vans laden with animals in desperate need of transport. That’s often how it’s done, on four wheels covering vast stretches of highway until the animals can be released into the temporary care of no-kill shelters or pet foster homes. But that’s not how Paul Steklenski rolls — or soars, that is. His rescue attempts are conducted in high-flying style.
Military Veterans & Dogs
Paul Steklenski is an Army veteran who was responsible for training officers at Fort Knox in the 1990s. After retiring from the military, he settled in Pennsylvania while still a relatively young man. He’d always had an interest in flying, so in 2013 he decided to take up the hobby. “I had always thought about learning to fly,” he told Today. “My uncle was a pilot. I still have his logbook from the ‘30s and ‘40s . . . I decided to start going for lessons.” Little did he know at the time what he was laying the groundwork for.
Later in 2013, Steklenski adopted a rescue dog brought up from Tennessee. The animal is named Tessa, and the adoption was so successful between the two that it set the vet to thinking of possible ways in which other dogs could be helped as well. It seems that Steklenski had always envisioned his newly acquired aviation skills being put to some good use. Originally, he had wanted to get involved with a program called Angel Flight, but when that didn’t pan out due to the newness of his skill sets he decided to forge ahead with a new plan involving animals.
Flying Fur Animal Rescue
Less than two years later, in 2015, Steklenski’s fledgling plan blossomed into a full-fledged nonprofit organization aptly named Flying Fur Animal Rescue. With the help of volunteers, pets at high risk for euthanasia are removed from shelters where the animals can “time out,” so to speak, and eventually be put down. You can guess how they’re transported. “The idea is to take them from a kill environment to a no-kill environment. Not everything works out all the time, but the shelters pledge to protect them and make sure they’re going to a good home,” explained Steklenski.
The Sky’s the Limit
After dumping $70,000 to purchase his own plane for the coordinated efforts Steklenski has been able to save more than 700 dogs since the program began. He is so dedicated to the cause, he regularly spends as much as $1,000 a month out of his own pocket on the monthly runs he makes flying the animals to greener pastures. “I truly believe in this,” Steklenski, who is now 45, said. “It’s my passion. I don’t think I found it, it found me.” Each trip he makes is its own reward as the animals he rescues are spared certain death.
“I’m part of them. I see it. I experience it. I can remember each flight like it just happened,” the enthusiastic pilot, animal lover and Army vet confessed. We should all be so lucky as to find our true calling in life, whatever it may be or wherever it may take us.