The seeds were planted in 2006 when best friends Brad Childs and Jonathan Plesset needed to find a creative way to use the skills they learned earning their pilots licenses. Uninspired by just flying around and eating lunch the duo began seeking out charitable missions that would benefit from the use of an airplane. A phone call from a friend about a 90 pound bulldog named Monte that needed transport to a “furever” home was the inspiration that began it all. Brad, along with our flight instructor Pete, flew the dog to Philadelphia. During the flight the team learned their first lesson about animal rescue; make sure the dog is secured. An excited Monte escaped from the back and came crashing into Brad’s lap, nosediving the airplane. The excitement of the adventure, and the realization that they could do something to help, instantly hooked and inspired them. Over the next few years the guys flew missions for other groups while learning about animal rescue.
In July of 2009 Jonathan and Brad were contacted about a dire situation facing animal shelters in Georgia that were running out of food. The two best friends decided to use their companies, Eyetique and Shadyside Inn All Suites Hotel, to raise money to help save some of these animals. Their efforts raised over 48,000 pounds of dog food which Brad and Jonathan, along with Brad’s wife Linda, personally delivered to Georgia-area shelters. This experience gave the guys their first taste of fundraising. Upon their return home on July 9th the City of Pittsburgh decreed by proclamation that this date would be forever known as the Eyetique and Shadyside Inn All Suites Hotel “Puppy Eyes Day” in Pittsburgh.
Formally Becoming A Non-Profit
In 2012, after learning the ins and outs of the rescue world, and experiencing some of the pitfalls, the guys saw an opportunity to create a new kind of animal welfare organization. Thousands of animals in neighboring states were being euthanized because no one could afford to transport these animals. The two pilots started offering free air transport to qualified non- profit shelters for any animal whose time was running out. In order to grow this concept and continue to offer their service for free they needed to be able to bring in funding from outside sources. Brad and Jonathan, along with their wives, Linda and Megan, decided to formally apply for 501(c)(3) status. A little over a year later they were granted their non-profit status and the guys began the process of building the organization under the name Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team.
The team started out picking up animals from nearby shelters and delivering them to their new homes. Soon they were transporting 10 to 15 animals at a time with multiple airplanes. In order to make the trips more efficient they would pack the empty planes with food and supplies and deliver them to these same shelters that were desperate for help. Through the use of social media, PAART began getting requests from all over the country to transport rescued animals. They have flown thousands of animals since their inception, the majority are dogs, but the team also rescue cats, sea trutles, and the occasional pig or python.
The Organization Spreads Its Wings
The weather in the Northeast makes flying missions during the winter months difficult on the team. After a harsh winter in 2014 the guys determined that in order to expand their reach and ensure that their mission grows, they needed to expand into land transports to stretch their rescue season. Finding the funding to purchase and outfit a rescue van proved difficult but the team was gaining in popularity and soon was the subject of a national news story. Celebrity animal lover Rachael Ray took notice and decided to make a large donation which was used to open a new division, the PAART Land Team. With a 50-animal rescue van, nicknamed the “Landplane,” the team could now transport hundreds of animals per month on the ground. If the planes can’t fly due to adverse weather, the van is ready and able.
With a fleet of airplanes and land rescue vehicles, PAART is now able to transport thousands of animals each year free of charge all over the eastern part of the United States and even internationally.
Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team is a fast growing nonprofit. What started out as two best friends looking for an excuse to use their pilot skills has turned into a multifaceted animal charity that provides a second chance for animals in crisis.