Pet Tales: Pilots fly high to rescue South Korean dogs from 'meat farms'

After traveling nearly 7,000 miles from South Korea, you would think the dog would have been eager to get out of the van. But she cringed and shivered at the back of the big crate where she had been confined for nearly 48 hours.

The brown Labrador retriever-hound mix had the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen and one of the saddest back-stories I’ve ever heard. She was raised on a South Korean farm, where she would be slaughtered and her body butchered and sold as meat.

The dogs reportedly have little or no interaction with the farmers who raise them, according to Humane Society International, the first cog in the rescue wheel.

“Those eyes just kill me. I want to cry,” said Lori Skovranko of White Oak.

Ms. Skovranko has seen eyes like that before because she is a volunteer with Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team. The 5-year-old organization “is dedicated to providing animals a second chance by transporting them from danger to safety,” according to its website.

In addition to meat farms, other dangers they face are underfunded animal shelters where a large percentage of animals are euthanized, as well as floods and other natural disasters that leave animals and people homeless.

PARRT has saved 5,967 animals since 2012 — 5,560 dogs, 342 cats and 65 sea turtles. The average cost is $50 per animal.

The biggest fundraiser of the year, Dog Days of Summer, is Aug. 26 at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin. Last year the event raised $100,000 for PAART.

Last Sunday and Monday Ms. Skovranko and volunteer Anthony LaRocca of Coraopolis drove a PAART van on a 1,200-mile round-trip mission. They picked up the scared dog and five other meat-farm dogs at JFK Airport in New York City and drove them to two local rescue kennels.

PAART was founded by pilots Brad Childs, executive vice president and COO of Eyetique, and Johnathan Plesset, president and CEO of Shadyside Inn All Suites Hotel. They use their own small planes to rescue animals. Volunteer pilots and planes are always needed.

PAART expanded to what it calls “land planes,” buying a trailer that can haul 70 animals at a time and the van that held six extra large crates for the trip last Monday. Volunteer “land pilots” are always needed.

I was at the South Hills Pet Rescue and Rehabilitation Resort on Route 88 in South Park when the three Korean meat dogs arrived on Monday. Volunteers named them Penelope, Bear and Jake.

When Penelope could not be coaxed out of her crate, kennel worker Cheryl McClearn gently picked her up — all 50 pounds of her — and carried her up the steps and into the building.

“That’s OK. I’m used to it,” Ms. McClearn said. “They come in so scared, but it’s very rewarding” to see how quickly dogs respond to kindness and good care.

Just one day after her arrival, Penelope was happy, wagging her tail and enjoying the affection of the people who care for her, said Nick Ferraro, a trainer who owns and operates South Hills Pet Rescue with his wife, Ashley Rittle Ferraro.

Some of the dogs from South Korea take up to a month to get comfortable and happy with people, he said. Many of them have already been adopted into good homes.

Bear and Jack, who look much like Penelope but weigh about 15 pounds more, were thrilled to get out of the crates and the van and seemed happy and comfortable as soon as their feet touched the grass. 

The Dog Days of Summer fundraiser will run from 5 to 10 p.m. at the airport on Lebanon Church Road. Look for catered food from Randita’s Organic Vegan Food Truck, Pittsburgh Crepes, City Fresh Pasta and Oh My Grill. Dessert will be “a sweet surprise.”

Music will be provided by DJD Pgh, and there will be auctions.

VIP and regular tickets can be purchased in advance at or at the event.

See the South Hills Pet Rescue and Resort Facebook page and the website for information about dogs available for adoption and photos of happy dogs going home with their new families.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 or on Facebook.