17-year-old pilot flying across state rescuing animals from shelters

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque high school student just got his pilot’s license and is already using it for good. He’s helping rescue and fly animals all over New Mexico, saving them from being euthanized.

At SAMS Academy Aviation in Albuquerque, high school students are learning more than just calculus and history – they’re getting their pilot’s licenses. Now, those students are getting an even bigger lesson in giving back.

“I would love to fly anyway I could,” said Cody Anderson, a pilot and student at SAMS Academy Aviation. “It’s a great opportunity in general, because, I need the flight time because I’m training on my instrument and commercial.”

Many animal shelters during COVID are either closed or low on staff and filled to the brim with animals. It has put many at risk of being killed.

“In our region, we have a major pet overpopulation issue,” said Koko Dean, Executive Director of Barkhouse. “What that means is when they go to the shelter, any animal that goes there is at risk of being possible [sic] euthanized just due to lack of space.”

Barkhouse, a non-profit in Las Cruces, is helping get these animals to states that are in the opposite situation — they have adopters, but not enough pets. After their go-to pilot had an issue with a plane engine, they started asking for help from the flight community. Now, they’re working with SAMS Academy Aviation to fly these rescue missions, while giving students much-needed flight time.

“We realized we have this perfect opportunity where we have students who need cross-country flight time,” said Lauren Chavez, Chief Flight Instructor at SAMS Academy Aviation. “They have dogs that need to be transported from one city in New Mexico to another.”

Recently, Anderson, a 17-year-old pilot, helped transport 22 puppies and two mama dogs from Las Cruces to Albuquerque. From there, another pilot in the “relay mission” took them to Aurora, Colorado.

“It was amazing to think I could change the lives of 22 other families just in one flight,” said Anderson. “I need the flight time and it’s great to help something else out by transporting these dogs to new families.”

The academy says the best part of this collaboration is that the dogs aren’t going from shelter to shelter. These transports are taking them straight to their forever homes. Barkhouse hopes other pilot programs can also step up and do the same.

“We have so many animals here that are in need that we can do once-a-week flights,” said Dean. “We’re looking for additional flight partners, additional donors, sponsors.”

Those involved say this is just the first step – saving animals one flight at a time. The academy has only done a few flights with dogs so far but hopes to start transporting cats and other animals in the near future.

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