Teen pilots airlift pets from crowding New Mexico shelters

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Teenage pilots are airlifting animals from shelters in New Mexico to places out of state where they have a better chance of being adopted.

The program is a collaboration between the Barkhouse animal shelter in Las Cruces and the SAMS Academy Aviation in Albuquerque, local TV station KRQE reports.

The high school student pilots need light hours, while the shelters need to move animals to areas where they are more likely to be adopted.

“In our region, we have a major pet overpopulation issue,” said Koko Dean, managing director of Barkhouse, adding that overcrowding at shelters can lead to euthanizing.

Animal shelters have sent unwanted puppies to the Denver area by ground, but it’s a very long trip — a 10-hour drive from cities such as Las Cruces in southern New Mexico.

On a recent flight, 17-year-old pilot Cody Anderson helped move two female dogs and 22 puppies from Las Cruces to Albuquerque.

From there another pilot took them to Aurora, Colorado, where there are fewer stray dogs compared to the demand for adoptions.

“It was amazing to think I could change the lives of 22 other families just in one flight,” Anderson told KRQE. “I would love to fly anyway I could. ... It’s a great opportunity in general, because, I need the flight time."

The academy tells KRQE it has coordinated a few flights with dogs but hopes to transport other animals soon.