A Hudson resident and professor at Kent State University uses his piloting skills to help both animals and humans in need.
Joe Murray, 61, is a volunteer pilot for two different nonprofit groups: Pilots N Paws, which helps animals find new homes, and Angel Flight East, which provides transportation for people in need of essential medical care.
Pilots donate their fuel and time, and Murray said there was no cost for patients airlifted to hospitals or clinics for their medical treatment as part of Angel Flight East. Pilots N Paws helps move animals such as dogs, cats, snakes, parrots and guinea pigs.
âThe two organizations have a pretty good arrangement,â said Murray, who is an associate professor at Kent State University School of Media and Journalism. âThey know where the pilots are based. They have a map with directions. They send [pilots] an email [about transportation opportunities] â¦ Pilots step in and volunteer if they have time.
Murray has been a pilot for over 30 years and said he has flown a 2006 single-engine Maule for the past three and a half years. He flew a few times for Pilots N Paws and once for Angel Flight East. So far, he said, it has been “a lot of fun” and observed, “It makes you feel good to help someone.”
Two Huskies flock to new homes
Murray flew his first mission for Pilots N Paws in March.
The task was to fly two Husky siblings – Kovu and Mage – from Jackson County Airport in Ravenswood, Virginia, to New Philadelphia Airport.
Monica Marshall, Michigan-based Forever Husky Transportation Coordinator, contacted Pilots N Paws to ask them to transport the Huskies from a shelter in South Carolina to Kaleidoscope K-9s, an animal rescue agency in Seville.
Murray piloted the third and final leg of the journey for the animals. Kovu and Mage were transported by other pilots from a shelter in South Carolina to Tennessee, then to West Virginia, where Murray picked them up.
Murray’s daughter Grace Murray Willer and son-in-law Chris Willer helped with this charity flight. Chris helped get the dogs in and out of the plane, while Grace kept the animals calm as they settled in for the hour-long flight. Murray estimated that each dog weighed around 40 pounds and had “a lot of energy and strength.”
âThey called them puppies, but they’re the biggest puppies I’ve ever seen,â Murray said.
He noted that the animals can be âreally worriedâ because they have ânever seen or heard a planeâ.
Murray said he initially placed one of the Huskies in a baggage area behind the back seat.
âWithin three seconds of getting on the plane, the dog jumped over the seat because he wanted to be with his brother,â Murray said. “Once [the dogs] were together, they lay down on Grace’s lap. This is how the theft happened. There was no problemâ¦ I think they were probably more comfortable just being with one person.
He noted that the dogs took a nap during the flight.
Kovu and Mage spent the night with a foster family in New Philadelphia, were taken to the Kaleidoscope K-9 the next day, and were then placed in homes.
Why he joined Pilots N Paws
Murray said he joined Pilots N Paws as a tribute to a deceased friend who co-owned the plane and loved all creatures.
Joining Paws N Pilots is, Murray said, “a way for me to advance his love, his compassion, his legacy.”
Murray remembers a time he went to his friend’s farm to pick him up on the plane.
As his friend was about to board the plane, he turned around and walked back to the hangar. Murray said he saw the man pick up a woolly bear caterpillar and drop it off in another location. If the creature hadn’t been moved, it would have been crushed when the hangar door closed.
âIt changed me just to see it happen,â Murray recalls. âHe felt that way for all animals. [Volunteering withÂ Pilots N Paws] is really just a way to pay it back.
His friend had goats, horses, dogs and cats on his farm, took in stray animals, made sure the animals were fed and also knew if an animal had been mistreated,
“[He] I just wanted to make their life a little better, âMurray said.
Flights provided to people with medical needs
Murray also volunteers for Angel Flight East, which provides free air travel for people who have to travel long distances for treatment.
A man with glioblastoma (a type of cancer that occurs in the brain or spinal cord) who lives in Massachusetts visits the Cleveland Clinic about every three weeks to participate in a clinical trial. After the man finished an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic in June, Murray took the patient and his wife by plane for a two-hour trip from the Lake County Regional Airport to Wilkes International Airport. Barre in Pennsylvania.
âA volunteer second-leg pilot was waiting when we arrived and he made the 90-minute flight to Barnstable Airport on Cape Cod,â said Murray.
Murray said flying small planes to and from small airports saved the couple time and helped them avoid potentially congested large airports. He estimated the total flight time between the Cleveland area and the Boston area was three to four hours, while driving by car would have taken around 13 hours.
“[It] makes their life much easier, âhe said.
He noted that these charity flights give this couple and others in similar circumstances one less thing to fear as they face a difficult situation. In fact, Murray added, it was “a comfort” for him to see the couple asleep in the back of his plane as they made their way to their destination.
âIt’s a privilege I can’t really explain,â Murray said. ââ¦ I cannot cure cancer or COVID. I can’t mend broken bonesâ¦ but miraculously I’ve been lucky in my life and through hard work I have a plane and I know how to fly it. I can help make their life a little better. It is an incredible thing.
Many volunteers involved in both groups
Murray said he was impressed with the network of people working together to help these animals and humans.
âPilots tend to get a lot of attention because we’re at the start and end of the flight,â Murray said. “For Pilots N Paws, for every pilot, there are probably half a dozen people in the field who coordinate [the process]. ”
The flights also help Murray and other general aviation pilots maintain and improve their flying skills, as well as flying some airports for the first time. For example, Murray’s landing at Wilkes-Barre International Airport was his first visit to this site.
He noted that he had recently completed another mission for Pilots N Paws and expects to make one or two flights per month. He has now joined a group called Turtles Fly Too, which is designed to save endangered sea turtles.
The longtime pilot said he enjoyed this foray into service because the flights are a reminder of why airplanes were invented.
“For the patient who has just been [spending] weeks and months in the hospital, there is only one thing they want more than anything and that is to be able to go home, âsaid Murray. âAirplanes were invented for that. They were invented to bring people together and I’m just thankful beyond words to be one of the pilots who could help make this possible.
Murray stressed that volunteers and donations are needed for all three groups. For more information on how to volunteer or donate, visit https://www.pilotsnpaws.org/, https://angelflighteast.org/ and https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/.
Phil Keren can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @keren_phil.