Saturday Spotlight: FlyPups gives paws safe landing

by: Sarah Lively, web producer Updated:

How many times a day does your dog make you smile?

Matthew Kiener conservatively estimated his beagle, Squire, made him smile about 20 times per day. He began thinking about these smiles, and that he could bring happiness to another by doing something he loved -- flying.

A few years ago Kiener began volunteering with Pilots and Paws, a rescue organization that joined together those who rescue, shelter or foster animals with volunteer pilots and plane owners willing to assist with transportation.

Kiener would check bulletin boards for posted needs, and help when he could.

On his first flight, he stopped at an airport to let the puppies stretch their legs. He picked one of the puppies up and began making jokes about her coming home with him. She began licking his face. He called his wife to let her know a puppy was coming home with him.

“After my first flight I knew this was what I wanted to be doing. This was my calling,” Kiener said.

Eventually shelters began calling Kiener directly. That’s when he decided to start his own nonprofit, FlyPups.

Kiener actually lives in New Jersey, but has done several rescues in North Carolina because of the state’s high number of kill shelters.

Lori Jinkerson of Hudson, N.C., volunteers with FlyPups. She and Kiener recently went to Lenoir, where they rescued six puppies that had been living in a basement. Jinkerson asked their owner if the puppies could be relocated, as they were living in their own filth.

He obliged, and the puppies left the basement for the first time to visit the vet for shots and health certificates.

FlyPups works with many adoption agencies, including Eleventh Hour Rescue in New Jersey. The puppies were loaded onto Kiener’s Piper Saratoga plane, and took off for the transport a few weeks ago. As of Friday, all six puppies had been adopted into loving homes.

Kiener estimates he has done a couple dozen flights over the past few years, flying somewhere between 150 and 200 puppies to destinations where they can find safety.

Fuel costs are his largest expense, as a roundtrip flight from New Jersey to North Carolina costs around $700. He is hoping to get a corporate sponsorship to assist with fuel costs.

Although Kiener does not have a need for volunteers at the moment, he encourages supporters to like FlyPups’ Facebook page. A strong social media presence could only help the nonprofit organization in its quest for a fuel sponsorship.

Savings on fuel costs would allow Kiener to take more flights, allowing for even more rescues.

If you are interested in making a donation to the organization, click here.

Kiener’s most touching rescue involved a dog named Radar. Kiener usually flies a group of dogs and not just one, but he made an exception in this case. Radar was found left for dead on the side of the road.

A surgeon donated his time to help fix Radar, and a year later Kiener flew him to Cleveland where he could see a behaviorist. When Kiener met Radar on the flying day, Radar excitedly jumped up and began licking him.

“(Radar) knew he was going to a better place, and that’s something special,” Kiener said.

Click here to learn more about FlyPups, or to read about some of Kiener’s other rescues.