New leash on life: four rescue dogs arrive at AAC by air

JACKSON, WY — “A house doesn’t smell like a home without the smell of a wet dog.”

So says Peter Ernest Rork, founder and pilot of “Dog is My Copilot, Inc.” And on June 21, the longest day of the year, four canine companions landed in Jackson to find their new homes and start new lives, thanks to Rork and his Cessna Caravan, a plane he has named “The Big Dog.”

The dogs flew in from San Antonio, Texas, where they had previously lived at San Antonio Pets Alive (SAPA). They’re now residents at the Animal Adoption Center until someone falls enough in love to take them home forever.

SAPA frequently parters with Dog is My Copilot. Shelters in the south are easily over-crowded, explained Dog is My Copilot Executive Director Kara Pollard. Oftentimes, they have no choice but to euthanize animals in order to make room for others. Shelters in Merced, California euthanized  94 percent of all animals that came through the door.

“It’s a slaughter,” Rork said. “An absolute slaughter.”

Shelters in Northern states like Wyoming and Idaho, by contrast, are seldom overcrowded. Pollard suspects such states, especially in places like Jackson, have more dog-friendly cultures, so the demand is higher. Dogs at the Animal Adoption Center, where the most recent San Antonio rescues now wait, often find homes in a matter of days.

The thing about animal adoption, Rork said, is every dog adopted is actually two dogs rescued—once one dog is adopted, another can take its place at the shelter. That’s why Rork partners with shelters in dog-friendly places like Jackson, where demand is high. When the weather is in his favor, from April to October, Rork makes up to four flights a week. That’s a lot of dogs in the air. And none of them will be euthanized.

Rescued from tragedy

Rork founded Dog is My Copilot with co-founder Judy Zimetiin 2012. It was born from tragedy—Rork’s wife died suddenly of cardiac arrest. “It crushed me,” Rork said. “It absolutely crushed me.”

The local orthopedic surgeon put away his surgical scrubs for good, and started doing animal rescues in his little six-seater Cessna on a volunteer basis. But he quickly realized the need was bigger than his six-seater could carry. Four years later, he upgraded to his 14-passenger Cessna Caravan—”The Big Dog.”

The aircraft’s name holds two meanings: it is, first, a testament to the plane’s sheer size. Rork stripped the seats out of the back, and has fit as many as 251 animals into the plane in a single rescue. But it also nods to the type of animal Rork often saves. In states like California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where most of Rork’s rescues come from, “big dogs” are in the most critical danger of being euthanized.

Since its inception in 2012, Dog is My Copilot has rescued more than 9,000 dogs. They’re expecting to transfer their 10,000th passenger this summer. That, Rork said, will be a day worth celebrating.

“I feel really good about that.”

New Jackson dogs

It’s hard to forget the experience of stepping off of a plane with the Tetons there to greet you. It’s also the experience of every dog who lands at Teton Aviation Center in Driggs, Idaho.

Pico, Sugar, Ginger (formerly Tuna), and Fiona (formerly Penny) were all too eager to take in their new surroundings. Pico trembled with excitement. Ginger hugged anyone in reach. Fiona ambled curiously around the strange place she had just landed. Sugar, meanwhile, was a little overwhelmed. She’s only an estimated four to six months old, the youngest of the pack. She sought solitude while she tried to understand why she’d just been uprooted thousands of miles from her home. But she has since come out of her shell and revealed her sweet, playful personality, according to the Animal Adoption Center’s Facebook introduction.

Their journey’s not quite over. After a stretch and bathroom break, the four pups loaded back into their kennels one last time, and into the Animal Adoption Center’s car. Now, they wait. And play. And wait, and play some more. Jackson life will suit them well.

Contact the Animal Adoption Center at 307.739.1881 to to learn more about these pups. 

Ginger, caught mid-wink. Photo: Nick Sulzer
Photo: Nick Sulzer

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