How this group of pilots is helping rescue pets displaced by disasters

The leader of Wings of Rescue said the team has responded to nearly every disaster in North America, including hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, freezing weather and floods.

Furry and feathered family members are often displaced during hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters, but a group of pilots is helping ensure pets are found and rescued.

The nonprofit Wings of Rescue swoops into disaster zones and flies animals from overcrowded shelters to make room for the displaced pets.

"Each flight has a rewarding story," said Ric Browde, president and CEO of Wings of Rescue.

According to Browde, the Wings of Rescue team has responded to nearly every disaster in North America since 2017, including hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, freezing weather and floods. Their planes have landed in all 50 states and in 13 countries, and have flown 69,000 pets to safety.

The Wings of Rescue team works with overcrowded shelters in areas struck by natural disasters to fly homeless animals at the shelter to rescues in unaffected locations. In doing so, Browde said the team makes space for pets who have recently become separated from their owners during a disaster.

"You want to give them every opportunity to be reunited with their families," he said.


Some of their recent rescues occurred after Hurricane Idalia struck Florida in late August. The deadly tropical cyclone made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, producing storm surge, flooding and powerful winds that destroyed many homes.

The day after the hurricane hit, Wings of Rescue traveled to Tampa to work with the municipal shelter Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. Browde said his team emptied out the shelter so that they could have space for the pets that were coming in after the storm.


They loaded up the homeless animals into planes and flew them to the Brandywine Valley SPCA, a shelter system in Pennsylvania and Delaware – and far away from areas devastated by Idalia.

The next day, they helped a shelter in Jacksonville that was also affected by Idalia to fly their homeless animals out by plane, as well.

"It made space so that so many people could rest easy knowing that their pets were safe while they got their lives back together, to get their homes salvageable, get back into their homes, get their pets back and create more happy endings," Browde said.

In addition to facilitating family reunions after a natural disaster, flying out animals that were already at affected shelters helps save the lives of shelter pets. According to Browde, many of those animals are in danger of being euthanized when natural disasters strike in order to make space for the recently displaced pets. By relocating them, they have a chance at finding their forever homes.

For Browde, this mission is rooted in a passion that has grown to incredible heights. He was working as a prolific producer and songwriter in California, selling more than 20 million records, when he found out about the dire state of pets in overcrowded shelters.

"My wife and I woke up one day and said, ‘Well, you know, we don't need another heavy metal record, but we need to do something for our lives,’" he said.


They then began volunteering at a local shelter to help save the lives of shelter pets. This volunteer work then grew into involvement with Wings of Rescue, which Browde began to lead.

"It's become my life," he said. "I never thought I was going to abandon rock-and-roll to do this, but it has been my life for the last 10 years."

To support the mission of Wings of Rescue, donations can be made on the Wings of Rescue website. According to Browde, all the donations go to saving pets.