Twenty nine puppies were transported across the country to begin their training as service dogs.
A non-profit, Canine Companions for Independence, provides people with disabilities service dogs to help them, with no cost to them.
The puppies are born in California and transferred to homes all around the country. Due to Covid-19, it was difficult to find reliable flights to transport the puppies. Canine Companions turned to volunteer pilots for help. The volunteer pilots allowed the mission to continue, during a pandemic. Now, more than 100 dogs are with families who will raise them and help train the dogs before they are passed on to professional trainers.
On March 28, three volunteer pilots left California with puppies in tow. They safely transported labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and mixed puppies to their temporary homes to begin their journey as service dogs.
Canine Companions for Independence, along with volunteer pilots, made it possible for 108 puppies to be taken to southern California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Texas.
Martyn Lewis, Josh Hochberg, and Jeff Stewart are private pilots who fly out of an airport in Sonoma, California.
These pilots donated their time, their plane and fuel. They went out for full days transporting the puppies to ultimately help people with disabilities.
Josh Hochberg is one of the pilots and the owner of Sonoma Jet Center where the planes fly out of. His two daughters will play with the puppies, which tires them out before the flight. Sometimes his daughters will ride along. The puppies usually sleep the entire flight and are no trouble to transport. Hochberg jokes and says they require less attention than his daughters.
Josh Hochberg said this work has provided something positive for him and his family during a challenging time. He found it so filling, he got a puppy for his family. Their new family member is an American Brittany named Charlie.
Canine Companions biggest challenge is finding volunteer pilots who can travel east. The dogs need to go across the US and while they have the west coast covered, their need is travel to the east.
The dogs are bred in Santa Rosa, California, at Canine Companions headquarters. They breed golden retrievers, labrador retrievers and mixes of the two breeds because of their calm temperament.
When the puppies are 8 weeks old, they are placed with families who will socialize the dogs and teach them about 30 commands. When they are one and a half, they will be placed in professional training centers, where they’ll learn more advanced commands in order to be categorized as service dogs.
There are approximately 400 people on a waiting list now for a service dog. During a pandemic, people would have to wait even longer for assistance dogs. Fortunately, the work of Canine Companions has been able to continue because of the generosity of these volunteer pilots.