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Kansas pilots volunteer time, planes to rescue dogs

7/21/2014

WICHITA (MCT)— Sot and Lotto were destined for death.

But instead of being euthanized at a veterinary clinic in Arkansas, the two pit bulls lounged in a Cessna-172 on Saturday morning on the first leg of their rescue mission.

The dogs are now destined for a new life in Canada.

"It's not just an animal you're saving, it's a soul," said Alfredo Gimenez, a test pilot engineer at Bombardier Learjet.

Gimenez and a co-worker, Tim Seymour, are volunteer pilots for the international nonprofit Pilots N Paws, which aims to transport rescue animals -- by air -- through the help of pilots that volunteer their time, money and aircraft.

"It's a nice way to combine two passions," said Seymour, a flight test pilot at Bombardier.

"We can't get enough of flying," added Gimenez, a Wichita State University graduate. "Ever."

Gimenez was researching the "Don't Shop, Adopt" movement and other campaigns to save pit bulls from mistreatment when he stumbled upon Pilots N Paws.

From there, he recruited Seymour, a third-generation pilot whose father and grandfather own a Cessna-172 Skyhawk, the aircraft used in the rescue mission Saturday.

Sot, about nine months old, and Lotto, about one or two years old, were dropped off at a vet for boarding while their owners went on a 10-day vacation, said Donna Easley, who drove the pit bulls to Fort Smith Regional Airport for the flight on Saturday.

Ten days and three months later, the owners never returned to pick up the dogs, Easley said. Sot and Lotto were surely to be euthanized, she said.

Many of the dogs rescued by Pilots N Paws are abused or abandoned at a kill shelter, Gimenez said.

"I don't understand how people do that," Gimenez said in-flight on Saturday. "There are a lot of questions in this life we don't the know the answers for, but we can help out."

Sot and Lotto were flown to Wichita, where they connected with another pilot from Colorado. From there they will await another pilot to transport them to their new family in Calgary, Canada.

Sot relaxed in the back of the plane on Saturday. He sniffed and napped most of the two-hour flight.

Lotto sat in a seat next to Gimenez, who kept a sure hand on her. She smiled and panted, eager to plant a kiss on anyone who leaned close enough.

One day Gimenez said he hopes to own a ranch with a runway, a sanctuary for rescued dogs.

"So much misconception about this breed," he said, motioning toward Lotto in his lap. "Look at her. So happy."

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(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)