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43rd FTS pilot invests in shelter animals' futures

43rd FTS pilot invests in fur-baby futures

Maj. George Asselanis prepares to fly his four-legged passengers from Arkansas to Minnesota following his Reserve duty weekend at the 43rd Flying Training Squadron, Columbus AFB, Mississippi. The major used his personal plane to help fly homeless shelter animals to Minnesota where forever homes and new families were waiting. (Courtesy Photo)

43rd FTS pilot invests in fur-baby futures

One of Maj. George Asselanis’ passengers takes a “comfort break” while the major refuels his plane. Asselanis used his personal plane on several occasions to help fly homeless shelter animals to Minnesota forever homes and new families. (Courtesy Photo)

43rd FTS pilot invests in fur-baby futures

Maj. George Asselanis poses with Minnesota shelter volunteers and foster parents upon delivering his precious cargo: a pack of wriggly, happy, furry, previously homeless pups. The traditional Reserve Citizen Airman used his personal plane to help fly homeless shelter animals to their forever homes in Minnesota. (Courtesy Photo)

JOINT-BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas -- Flying a personal aircraft is expensive. Besides the $40,000-$60,000 to buy a small used plane, aircraft owners can expect to pay $1,200 or more per year for insurance, $2,500 or so annually to hangar the plane, and annual maintenance of $2,500 (more or less depending on how many hours they fly); add to that the cost of landing fees and the $50 or more per hour for fuel, oil and so on, and flying for sport can be pretty sporty indeed.

One Reserve Citizen Airman, who owns a 1964 Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche, knows in great detail about the cost of flying a personal plane, but he also knows the intangible benefit of using that plane to save animals’ lives.

Maj. George Asselanis, a 43rd Flying Training Squadron's Intro to Fighter Fundamentals instructor pilot at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, is associated with the Pilots-n-Paws program, through which pilots work with shelter volunteers to identify and move small animals from their current overpopulated locations (frequently crowded kill shelters) to less crowded locations, where rescue and shelter volunteers are more likely to be able to find forever homes for the airborne fur-babies.

Sadly for Asselanis and the pups, kittens and other critters, $3 to $4 (or more) per gallon gas limits his and other pilots’ ability to support the program as often as they would like.

“I like being able to take the dogs and cats from an overcrowded shelter with a bleak future to a probably very comfortable life as a suburban pet,” he said. “It’s tremendously inefficient, though.”

The traditional Reserve Citizen Airman has used his personal plane on several occasions to fly from his home in Minnesota to his squadron at Columbus. On each return flight, he stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas, where shelter volunteers helped him load up the departing pets.

Asselanis has been willing to commit an extra $200 to $300 of his personal funds per trip to help move the homeless critters and animals are a big part of his and his wife's life. His wife, a professional groomer, owns two dog grooming shops, and they have three dogs and a cat of their own.

With 14 years of Air Force service, Asselanis exhibits the selfless servant characteristics so common in Airmen. He won’t tell you that, though.

“We (he and his wife) are dog people, and we know that many shelters have too many animals, while the shelter in Minnesota had homes lined up for most of the animals before I even arrived, so it was nice to be able to help out,” he explained.

Asselanis continues to look for other opportunities to support causes “where aviation provides a unique benefit,” he said. For example, some charities use private aircraft to fly patients from rural areas to hospitals for treatment, or provide disaster relief support when obstacles (like flood waters) block ground transportation.

“I’m looking for ways to get involved in something like that,” he said, adding another noble goal to his previous acts of kindness.