Homeless Pets Fly to Safety

With the help of a volunteer pilot, a one-eyed Chihuahua and dozens of other homeless pets have flown across the U.S. to loving homes

Jonna Tyree holds her pet Chihuahua, Chopper
Dog tired: After a long hike in the hills near his new home in Missoula, Montana, Chopper rests in owner Jonna Tyree’s arms. The one-eyed pup was rescued from the rough-and-tumble streets of Sacramento where Chihuahuas are routinely euthanized.

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Last year Chopper was a down-and-out Chihuahua from the rough-and-tumble back alleys of Sacramento, California. His tough life cost him an eye and landed him in county lockup (er, that would be the local pound to us humans).

With dozens of other Chihuahuas surrounding him, he had little chance of being adopted. That meant that big kennel in the sky for Chopper. “He came so close to being euthanized,” says Sharon Lohman, president and founder of New Beginnings, an all-volunteer animal rescue group in Merced County. “He had been sitting there for almost three months. They usually only have about three weeks.”

Now Chopper is a pampered pooch living in the lap of luxury — literally! — with a well-to-do family in Missoula, Montana. His favorite hobbies are hiking, swimming, and just plain frolicking with his new canine brother and sister — a pit bull and a blue heeler. And he was even featured on a local calendar from the Humane Society of Western Montana.

That’s all because the lucky pooch was airlifted out of the danger zone by Dog Is My CoPilot Inc., a nonprofit started two years ago by retired orthopedic surgeon and pilot Dr. Peter Rork. The organization, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, works in conjunction with shelters and various local animal groups like New Beginnings to fly Chihuahuas, so numerous in the American Southwest border states that they are practically unadoptable, as well as a variety of other dogs and cats, to places where they are rare and sought after.

To hear Rork, 61, tell it, he owes a debt to the critters he ferries northward. That’s because saving them actually saved him. His new bride, only 41 years old, died in his arms after a sudden cardiac arrest in 2012. “Her death broke me,” explains Rork. “I would wake up and pour myself a cup of coffee and just sit there staring into the cup. The next thing I knew the sun was coming up.” Rork says he could not go back to being a doctor; his “heart just wasn’t in it anymore.” …

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