Brad Childs and Robert McMaster are using more than Upper St. Clair fire trucks and police cruisers to help others—they're using an airplane.
Childs, a volunteer firefighter and the vice president of Eyetique, and McMaster, an Upper St. Clair officer, both have a love for flying and animals, so they've teamed up to create the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team.
The organization transports at-risk animals by working with volunteer rescue organizations and shelters. For example, Childs said he'll get a call that a shelter is going to euthanize dozens of dogs, so he'll work through Pilots N Paws to help get the dogs to a no-kill shelter or a "furever" home.
"It's weird, but they (the dogs) know you're helping them get out of a bad situation. I don't know how, but they know, it's crazy," Childs said.
"I swear you can see the gratitude in the dogs. Most have been abused or neglected. They're on their way to a new life. It's gratifying," McMaster said.
One of their most memorable trips happened about a year ago. They flew a dog in the third leg of a trip to reunite the animal with its owner.
The owner came to Pittsburgh from Florida for a quick doctor's appointment, but found out his cancer returned and he only had days to live. His final wish was to somehow be reunited with his pet, and Childs and McMaster helped make that happen.
"We got him (the dog) back in 20 hours. And that wouldn't even have been possible through a commercial flight," McMaster said. "We see it as we're a specialized taxi service. The real heroes here are the rescue organizations—the people who foster and adopt dogs."
And it's a service that they're mainly paying for out of their own pockets.
"How much money? A lot. But that dog is worth it. They're all worth it," McMaster said.
Childs and McMaster have submitted the paperwork to make Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team a nonprofit organization and are hoping to get approval in the near future.
In the meantime, how can you help? Childs said they could always use dog food donations. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and like Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team on Facebook to help get the word out.
The organization has already helped more than 200 dogs and raised about 50,000 pounds of dog food. Childs and McMaster said they couldn't do it without their chief pilot, Lawrence (Pete) Lehmann, and the support of their wives, Linda Childs and Anne McMaster.