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Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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Hometown Heroes: Tampa pilot flies unwanted pets to safety

A black and white French Bulldog named Reggie became a milestone for retired businessman Jeff Bennett.

The squirmy canine became the 3,000th rescue dog Bennett has flown to a better life.

Bennett volunteers with Pilots and Paws. The South Carolina-based charity enlists small plane pilots to take animals from overcrowded shelters that have high euthanasia rates to foster homes, rescue groups and less-crowded shelters that don’t kill them.

On a windy December day, Bennett flew his four-seat plane from the Florida Keys to Gainesville, where he dropped off a potbellied pig named Iggy at a swine shelter. Then he went on to the Panhandle, where he collected nearly two dozen dogs, including Reggie, from a shelter in Alabama. The dog is headed for new owners in South Florida.

Bennett estimates he’s flown about 1,100 hours in his four-seat Cirrus since starting his work with the group six years ago.

“Most of the time I do puppies and kittens, but I’ve done snakes, rats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes, tortoises, sea turtles, falcons, pigs and a kinkajou,” he said.

Ruth Douthitt of Second Chance Puppies and Kittens Rescue in West Palm Beach, was waiting to take most of the two dozen dogs and two kittens back to South Florida when Bennett stopped in Tampa on his way back south.

Reggie has people waiting to adopt him, and all of the other animals on Bennett’s flight that day will be taken in by fosters or no-kill shelters.

“The problem is, where we deal a lot with Alabama rescues, they’re such rural areas up there, they have shelters that may hold only 10 animals,” said Douthitt.”

Once the 10-animal limit is reached, officials put a sign on the door saying the shelter can’t take any more.

“We’ve had dogs thrown out of vehicles on the highway, they’re dumped on the side of the road, they’re dumped in the woods, we’ve had some, they just leave them by the side of the river,” Douthitt said. “And the rescue groups up there are really good about saving these dogs and getting them to us.”

Who’s Your Hero?

We’re looking for everyday people who help others in ways big and small, motivated only by kindness and a desire to make our community a better place. Send your nominee’s name to news@tampatrib.com, with Hometown Hero in the subject field, along with a brief description of his or her selfless act. Or send it by mail to Hometown Heroes, Tribune newsroom, P.O. Box 191, Tampa FL 33601.

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