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About seven to eight million companion animals are put to death in the United States every year, mostly because animal shelters are becoming overcrowded. But a local couple is helping to save some of these animals by flying to areas where dogs are on death row.
Just recently, in fact, the couple, Jack Merritt and Julia Altman, hit a milestone of 1,000 dogs saved.
“There is a need in this area for friendly adoptable animals,” Merritt said. “Many are just minutes away from being put to death.”
About twice a month, Merritt flies his 1967, single-engine, four-seater Mooney airplane out of New Garden Flying Field to shelters up and down the East Coast, gathering small dogs targeted for euthanasia. He brings most of them to Greenmore Farm, which sits on six acres on Upland Road, where they are vetted, given shots and put up for adoption.
“We are like the underground railroad for dogs,” Merritt said. “Most of the dogs find their way into rescues. Most of the shelters I go to are overcrowded and do not have a spay and neuter culture, so there is a lot more indiscriminate breeding.”
Merritt, who is a board member of the Bucks County SPCA, says he takes mainly small dogs because he can fit more on the plane. Most times he can fit five or six dogs on his airplane, but his record is 15 small dogs. Typically, he flies solo, or sometimes with his partner, Altman, owner of Greenmore Animal Rescue, which has seven horse stables and four fenced pastures and a chicken coop.
The cost of the fuel for the airplane and all other related expenses come directly from Merritt’s pocket. He does it, he said, because it’s his passion.
“I think if we can leave this earth a little better than we found it, they you are a success,” Merritt said. “It’s an expensive endeavor, but this is my avocation.”
Greenmore Animal Rescue is a non-profit agency and has 20 active volunteers and four employees. During a typical week, seven to 10 dogs come in to the shelter; and seven to 10 dogs go out. A puppy room was recently built onto the kennel, ensuring that the venture will be long-term.
Merritt says he is always on the troll for animals marked for death in high-kill shelters, and most of them are located in the Greater Northeast and Appalachian region, places like Anderson, South Carolina, and Huntington, West Virginia.
Merritt says he enjoys the flights, and is comforted he is saving the lives of all his small passengers. He recalled one flight where a dachshund got out of his crate, and made his way to the cockpit area, where he flew the entire flight on Merritt’s shoulder, enjoying the scenery.
About a quarter of the dogs Merritt retrieves are purebred, either because they were abused by owners, or because the owners decided they did not want them.
To donate to the tax-exempt mission, visit www.greenmorerescue.org.