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“I used to be deadly afraid of airplanes,” Ted DuPuis told us. That’s not all that surprising. Plenty of folks, including the person at the keyboard right now, harbor a healthy dread of flight. But DuPuis’s response to that fear probably sets him apart from most of us: He became a pilot.
On September 8, 2007, the 25-year-old Williamsport, Penn., resident took his first lesson and he has been learning to fly or flying pretty much nonstop since then. “I’ve been on an accelerated track,” he says with understatement.
Dovetailing with his new passion for the friendly skies has been an interest in using his expanding skill-set to help others. “I got the desire to do charitable flights fairly early on,” he says. In particular, he was intrigued by Angel Flight , an organization that arranges free air transportation for charitable and medical purposes. But as a young frequent flyer he hasn’t yet met all the requirements for Angel Flight pilots. In aiming toward that goal, he volunteered to assist with animal transport, in particular Animal Rescue Flights  (ARF), which promotes, plans and performs the transportation of animals from overcrowded shelters to other parts of the country where qualified families are waiting to adopt them. (Pilots N Paws  also facilitates volunteer air transports, which we wrote about in Oct. 2009 .)
It’s a simple truth that a homeless dog in the South or the Midwest may have a better chance of finding a good adoptive home in the Northeast or cities in the West. For these dogs in overcrowded, under-funded shelters, a grassroots network of volunteer transportation can mean the difference between life and death.
DuPuis brought the same ambition to his new calling that he’d brought to mastering his fear of flying. But once he was initiated into the reality of pet overpopulation, crowded shelters and high rates of euthanasia, he wanted to do more.
“I wanted to start something that would address large-scale transport reliably,” DuPuis says. So he launched Cloud Nine Rescue Flights  with one pilot (himself) and the 1969 Piper Aztec twin-engine he bought in January 2009. His designated niche? Transporting more animals, farther with each flight and with greater reliability.
It’s a slightly different approach than ARF and Pilots N Paws. In those groups, rescues and pilots connect via a website; pilots donate their time and the cost of a flight (more on that in a second); and they often transport only a few animals per flight. In some cases, several pilots are needed to fly linked legs to cover greater distance.
DuPuis’s 700-mile range means he can fly farther without stopping than many of the aircraft volunteered for other missions, which is less strenuous for the furry passengers. Also, it cuts down on the number of pilots needed for each mission, which improves the odds of success.
He also claims a weather advantage. When thunderstorms or snow keep many small planes in their hangars, DuPuis’s plane—equipped with weather radar and de-icing equipment—can fly. Since he began transporting animals, he says he only had to postpone two out of 20 missions, and then only for 24 hours.
Because he can easily fit 15 to 20 crated animals (he’s taken as many as 23), DuPuis seeks out bigger missions. “It has to be something that makes the best use of the plane,” he says. He smaller transports to ARF and Pilots N Paws.
Another thing makes the fledgling nonprofit different than its predecessors, DuPuis aims to underwrite the estimated $2,000 per transport with individual donations, sponsorships and grants. In December 2009, the ASPCA granted the organization enough to fund at least two missions. And so far he’s been able to cover about 50 percent of his costs.
DuPuis hopes to expand with more planes some day. His short-term goal is one transport per weekend. His long-term goal is one transport a day.
Most Saturday mornings will find DuPuis at an airport in the Southeast bound for destinations up north. He loads the animals into crates on his plane. (He has his own crates, but can always use more.) “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” he says. On a window of his airplane is a “Dog Is My Co-Pilot” bumper sticker, and on a recent crowded flight, dog really was his co-pilot.
Even with the help of “tremendous” volunteers, Cloud 9 is like a second full-time job. When he comes home from his day job as an engineer for the company that made the engines in his airplane, DuPuis works on Cloud 9 business until he goes to bed. Actual transports take at least one of his weekend days. “Cloud Nine absorbs all my free time but it is the most rewarding thing I do,” DuPuis says.
Learn about Cloud Nine Rescue Flights  online, where you can also make tax-deductible donation via Paypal or contact Ted DuPuis or make a donation the old fashioned way at Cloud Nine Rescue Flights, 259 Irion Dr., Montoursville, PA 17754; 812-243-2585.
Photo of Ted DuPuis with dog by Joe Gurka. Photo of Ted DuPuis with propeller by Donna Sullivan.