Volunteer Ben Perna, right, tries to restrain his 5-year-old dog Zoe Jane as Jonathan Plesset, co-founder of Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team holds donated food from Cortney and Justin Broestel of Pleasant Hills on Saturday at The Mall at Robinson.
By Marylynne Pitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Anyone who enjoys the companionship of a faithful dog knows how much a pet loves meal time. That includes Brad Childs, vice president of Eyetique, and his friend of 16 years, Jonathan Plesset, who owns the Shadyside Inn.
On a typical weekend, the two men fly the Piper Warrior plane they own to rescue dogs in shelters east of the Mississippi.
That's why from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the duo and volunteers from the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team collected donations of cash, dog food and dog treats in the parking lot outside Houlihan's restaurant in The Mall at Robinson.
Their goal was to collect 10,000 pounds of food over the weekend. By the end of the day Sunday, they had about 12,000.
There was so much that in addition to filling the truck they rented, volunteers had to drive three personal vehicles, loaded down with food, to his hangar at the Allegheny County Airport.
It filled eight pallets, stacked 5 feet high.
"[Sunday] was amazing," Mr. Childs said. "It was just a constant flow of people. From one bag to 10 bags."
By 2 p.m., the truck was full, but they stuck around. It paid off -- one woman showed up at 3:55 with 300 pounds to donate.
He organized the dog food drive after flying to a shelter in Bluefield, W.Va., about three weeks ago to pick up seven puppies bound for homes in Buffalo, N.Y.
"You could see the desperation in the woman's eyes," said Mr. Childs, recalling that the shelter employee told him the facility had 100 dogs and one can of dog food.
That's why much of what's being collected will be distributed in southern, rural West Virginia.
"We want to make sure it goes to a shelter that needs it," Mr. Childs said.
Around 11 a.m. Saturday, Gretchen Fieser, director of public relations for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, arrived with volunteers and 6,000 pounds of food, including bags of dog treats and cat food.
"You can't forget the cats," Ms. Fieser said.
Every year, Ms. Fieser said, the Humane Society, which operates an open-door shelter on the North Side, holds a pet adoption at The Mall at Robinson to find homes for 100 animals.
Last summer, Mr. Childs, along with his wife, Linda, and Upper St. Clair police Officer Rob McMaster and his wife, Anne, started the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team. The organization has nine board members and six pilots and is in the process of obtaining nonprofit status.
Mr. Childs and Mr. Plesset learned to fly together in 2002 at the Pittsburgh Flight Training Center, located at the county airport in West Mifflin. At first, they took daytrips to nearby towns, joking that the hamburgers they had for lunch cost $500, given the price of fuel at $5.50 to $6 a gallon.
Five years ago, Mr. Childs flew to Philadelphia to deliver a 9-month-old, 90-pound American bulldog named Monty to a waiting family. During the flight, the dog jumped into his arms, sending the plane into a nosedive. His co-pilot flew the rest of the way.
Mr. Childs and Mr. Plesset also participated in the Georgia Puppy Caravan.
"We pulled 216 dogs out of an Atlanta, Ga., shelter. All of them were scheduled to be euthanized the next day," Mr. Childs recalled.
The men found an independent manufacturer of dog food based in the South. Using funds they raised from friends and family, they spent $15,000 for 50,000 pounds of dog food and had it delivered on an 18-wheel tractor-trailer to the shelter in Atlanta.
The two friends dream of owning a Cirrus SR22 Turbo, a single-propeller plane known for having a parachute rescue system that can lower the craft to the ground in an emergency.
That plane is faster, has a greater range and is more fuel efficient, they said.
"We're hoping that one guy with a jet reads this and says, 'I'm your knight in shining armor.' " Mr. Childs said.