I learned to fly out of Gnoss Field airport, Novato, and have been involved in the local aviation community for over twenty-five years. In September 2020, I got an email from a volunteer with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GD) who knew about my aviation connections. The organization was looking for pilots to transport adult dogs and puppies to several western states. I knew that Guide Dogs for the Blind had a campus in San Rafael, and I had seen them with their trainers around town, but it had never occurred to me that there could be a connection between aviation and dogs – two of my passions. I put the word out to my flying friends. Nobody I knew was able to respond to the request, but I wanted to learn more about planes and puppies, so I contacted the organization and spoke with Sarah Blevins, Operations and Project manager, and Karen Woon, VP Marketing.
I did not know that Guide Dogs for the Blind was started in 1942 to help veterans who had been blinded in World war ll. It has continued to grow over the years and has puppy raising programs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington, hence the need for different forms of transportation. According to the “Planes for Puppies” blog entry on the Guide Dogs for the Blind website, the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the ability of the program to get dogs to their destinations. “Most airlines have discontinued flying dogs in the cargo areas, and those that are continuing have not been reliable in terms of their flight schedules or the aircraft being used.” Even transportation by puppy trucks has been negatively impacted. In light of these current events, they are in the process of assessing their future transportation needs, and considering general aviation solutions.
Guide Dogs for the Blind still has several options when it comes to flying adult dogs and puppies, one being the support of a private jet organization. But there is still a need for pilots and planes in our local area. The Gnoss Field Community Association (GFCA) has identified seventeen types of operations conducted from our local airports that benefit the community as a whole. Adding support for Guide Dogs for the Blind to that list would be supporting a worthy cause. When they have identified their specific needs, GFCA will consider the options for helping them. We will be looking at the infrastructure, as well as pilots and planes, that meet the criteria for transporting puppies, adult dogs who have graduated from training, and those dogs who did not graduate and will be seeking alternate “careers”! Stay tuned.