Pilots spend free time rescuing, transporting shelter puppies

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OCONOMOWOC -- An Oconomowoc pilot is on a mission to save dozens of lives. He flies hundreds of miles rescuing dogs that would otherwise face a death sentence.

Many know what it's like at the airport on vacation, up way too early in the morning. Few are as happy about it as Mike Selwa. The Harley engineer from Oconomowoc uses "vacation days" to engineer something very special and life-saving.

At around 8:00 a.m., Selwa lifted off from Brookfield's Capital Airport. Once high in the sky, the part-time pilot explained how flying is his full-time passion. "If I won the lottery I would fly until the money was gone. I would have been a pilot if I started over," Selwa said.

Selwa shares his airborne adventures through the Facebook page of his curious co-pilot, Harlan. "I'm embarrassed to say I was probably the only guy not on Facebook, and I wasn't sure I wanted to take that step yet, so I put my cat on it, and it just kind of developed from there," Selwa said.

Over three hours of travel took the animal lover to French Lick, Indiana, 60 miles northwest of Louisville. There, Selwa met Bob Hilpert, a full-time Delta pilot from Tennessee who had five furry reasons to fly on his day off. Hilpert had four lab mix puppies and a Shepard mix named Whitfield looking for a home. The dogs came from Savannah, Georgia's animal control shelter. Animals there face a fatal fate.

"This particular shelter down there is a kill shelter. It's one of the ones that keeps them for a particular period of time, and then they get euthanized, and that's it,"

"We feel badly some of them don't leave shelters that are adoptable,"

Not wanting the dogs to die, every few months, a transfer takes place. Dogs are carried, crated, loaded and airlifted to safety.

After about an hour on the ground, Hilpert headed home, but Selwa's day was only half done. He guaranteed his pawed passengers a smooth ride, geared up and headed down the runway with precious cargo."The goal is just to get them to where they need to be as quick as we can, because it's stressful," Selwa said.

Selwa's destination five hours away was Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary in Marion, Wisconsin. Marion is a short distance from Clintonville Airport, where Selwa walked and watched the puppies play, until Amanda Reitz and the rest of the Happily Ever After Crew arrived, to give the dogs their happily ever after.

Reitz is the one who originally organized the life-saving arrangement through the non-profit website Pilots N Paws. The site has been linking together people like Selwa and Reitz for years. The Georgia-to-Wisconsin run now has a life of its own, after almost 10 rescue trips.

The pups loaded up and Selwa took off, approaching his 10th exhausting hour in the air. If he would have just kept going all day, Selwa would have ended up more than 100 nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico. "Long trip, but we picked up five puppies and brought them to a safe place," Selwa said.

Not too shabby for a so-called "vacation day," and Selwa wouldn't have it any other way.

There are many more people out there doing work like Selwa and those that help the dogs. Volunteers are always needed from both pilots and non-pilots.

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