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Pilot volunteers to transport, rescue dogs

Maj. Ron Johnson, 437th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations and C-17 Globemaster III pilot, holds Zeus after a Pilots N’ Paws mission to Jacksonville Fl., July 22, 2017. Johnson partnered with Pilots N’ Paws to help take Zeus to a foster family.

Maj. Ron Johnson, the 437th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations and a C-17 Globemaster III pilot, holds Zeus after a Pilots N’ Paws mission to Jacksonville Fla., July 22, 2017. Johnson partnered with Pilots N’ Paws to help take Zeus to a foster family. (Courtesy photo)

Maj. Ron Johnson, 437th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations, circles the airport before landing in Savannah, Ga., July 22, 2017. When Johnson's not flying for the 437th, he uses his personal plane and volunteer time to fly dogs from across the country to foster families and non-kill shelters for the Pilots N’ Paws program.

Maj. Ron Johnson, the 437th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations, circles the airport before landing in Savannah, Ga., July 22, 2017. When Johnson's not flying for the 437th OSS, he uses his personal plane and volunteer time to fly dogs from across the country to foster families and non-kill shelters for the Pilots N’ Paws program. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE CHARELSTON, S.C. (AFNS) -- As a pilot in the Air Force, it seems only natural to desire to fly on one’s free time. However, owning and using a personal plane to fly dogs in need is a different story.

Maj. Ron Johnson, the 437th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations and a C-17 Globemaster III pilot, bought his first private airplane and decided to use it to transport animals through a nonprofit organization called Pilots N’ Paws. The program is dedicated to flying animals from kill to non-kill shelters or to adopted families.

“The pilots and volunteers are an enormous boon to the animal rescue community,” said Monica Rutt, the American Brittany Rescue Southeast regional coordinator. “We can only begin to express our gratitude for their generous efforts, donating their time and aircraft, all to help pets in need.”

Pilots like Johnson donate their aircraft and time to move thousands of rescue animals, military working dogs and service dogs to safe havens provided by rescue families. Johnson volunteers when and where he wants, giving him the opportunity to transport animals from coast to coast. 

“I just go to the website, put in distance I will be traveling to, where I’m based and when I’m free," said Johnson. "They send me an email when they have an opportunity that meets my requirements."

Growing up around pets and having a natural love for flying was a perfect fit, all of which factored into Johnson’s decision to volunteer.

“I really love pets," said Johnson. "It’s very good volunteer work, something I actually enjoy doing and I like flying to new locations so it all works together. It’s definitely a very rewarding job, moving pets to foster families. Everyone is always really appreciative. It just makes everything worthwhile.”

Being an Air Force C-17 pilot, Johnson is used to carrying cargo from one location to another. With this volunteer program, he also feels attachment to the precious cargo he’s transporting.

“Both opportunities provide gratification," he said. "With the C-17 you’re a big piece to the Air Force puzzle and you know the delivery you make will eventually make a difference. You get to directly see the impact you’re making. Knowing the dog is going to a good home is instant gratification. I don’t like the idea of a dog sitting in a shelter when there’s something I can do about it.”

Recently Johnson had the opportunity of transporting a 9-month-old dog named Zeus from Savannah, Georgia to Jacksonville, Florida. The flight was one of the steps of Zeus's journey to his foster family, where he will be taken care of until a “forever home” is found.

“I’m really just grateful that I could be a part of Zeus’ story,” said Johnson. “It’s always rewarding to see pets like him get the care they need.”