For RS&H aviation manager Tom Slater, the added perspective of being a commercial instrument-rated pilot not only enhances his engineering decisions but also lends itself to embracing one of our company’s core values, being driven to care.
Working with the non-profit organization Pilot N Paws, Tom is dedicated to using his pilot’s license and personal plane to leave an impact on his community.
What is Pilot N Paws?
Pilot N Paws is a non-profit organization that works with volunteers to arrange or schedule rescue flights, overnight foster care or shelter and all other related activities for dogs in need.
Nearly a decade ago as Pilots N Paws expanded into North Carolina, the organization recruited Tom to fly abandoned or injured dogs on missions to veterinary care facilities, rescue organizations or new owners.
Sometimes the dogs ride shotgun, holstered to the backseat, able to take in the views from 10,000 feet. Other times they rest in the cargo hold as the 4-seat Cessna 172SP soars 160 miles an hour to places as far-flung as Indiana, Louisiana or Rhode Island. Regardless of their seat assignment or where they’re going on the ground, these pups are almost always flying toward a better future.
Over the years, Tom has spent his off-hours piloting hundreds of flights, taking dogs all over the country. In that time, he’s made memories – and learned a few lessons.
The Journey to a Better Future
In March 2020, right on the cusp of the pandemic, Tom reminded RS&H associates that through the difficult and uncertain times, there were still plenty of good things we could do to help others.
He shared photos from one of his flights where he had the opportunity to rescue 7 puppies from a shelter in Vidalia, Georgia, and fly them to new homes in Northern Virginia.
After a typical flight, Tom would get to meet the adoptive families, however, due to additional safety measures, this wasn’t the case. Although Tom was not able to see the smiling faces of the pups’ new families, he says the “thank you” from the 7 passengers was “more than enough.”
While most flights take off without a hitch, there have been a few lessons learned by Tom over the years.
“We flew into Asheville one time with a dog that was tethered in the back seat,” said Tom. “The handler unhooked the dog and didn’t tell me she had done it.”
When Tom opened the door, the dog got loose and explored the airport for 45 minutes, until local firemen arrived and finally caught him.
“From then on, I always make sure to double-check that the dogs are properly secured before exiting the aircraft,” said Tom with a laugh.
For every learning experience like the story above, there have been many more rewarding moments, he added.
“We’ve had a lot of emotional hellos and goodbyes,” he said. “We fly a lot of trips from foster homes to new, forever homes. On both sides of these trips, it’s emotional.”
Tom noted that he’s even experienced emotions get the best of people mid-flight. Once, as he flew a litter of golden retriever puppies to a South Carolina rescue, the handler assisting Tom fell in love with one of the puppies and decided to adopt him.
Beyond Pilot N Paws
Though his involvement with Pilots N Paws is extensive, Tom does not limit his volunteering efforts to the non-profit – or curtail his passenger list to canine companions. He flies dogs regularly for another non-profit, CrisisDogs NC and has flown supplies to places such as Haiti as part of relief efforts. On a yearly basis, he also takes part in Angel Flights, transporting sick people across the country for treatment and other medical needs.
And in the effort of introducing and inspiring kids within the world of aviation, Tom works with the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) program, Young Eagles®. The Young Eagles® program has been around for more than 25 years and has given more than 2 million children their first free ride in an airplane.
Tom is often joined by his wife, also a pilot, on his volunteer missions.
“When you can do something you love, with the people you love and help others in the process, you can’t beat that,” said Tom.
Empowering our Associates
Tom’s volunteer efforts do not go unnoticed by the RS&H community. In 2020 Tom won “community volunteer of the year” at our annual awards ceremony. Later that year, Pilot N Paws was one of the 12 organizations to receive a donation from our Elevate Fund.
Tom’s efforts have not only helped the community but have improved the lives of several people and animals across the country.
To learn more about how RS&H and our associates are committed to helping our communities, visit our community involvement page.
This post was originally published on July 3, 2018, and updated on August 18, 2022.
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