Jonathan Plesset is allergic to dogs and cats, but that didn’t stop him from rescuing 13,312 animals over the last decade.
Plesset and his best friend Brad Childs are the founders of No Dog Left Behind, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization dedicating to saving pets in danger. The pilots, along with a small army of volunteer drivers, transport animals slated for euthanasia to no-kill shelters located throughout the eastern U.S. that have more space and resources.
Based out of the Allegheny County Airport, No Dog Left Behind uses a small, eight-passenger cargo plane to whisk pups to safety. They’ve also assisted cats, guinea pigs, sea turtles, pythons and even a wayward Monarch butterfly that got lost during its migration to Mexico.
The cost of each operation ranges between $500 and $700, or about $20 per animal. Before Covid, the crew was performing 100 missions each year; now it’s down to two or three a month, but things are ramping back up again.
At the start of the pandemic, more people were adopting animals to occupy their time during quarantine. Now, with folks going back to the office, shelters are filling up again.
Nonprofit animal rescue organizations contact No Dog Left Behind to get each life-saving journey off the ground. Plesset and Childs do not offer private transportation services.
In their early 20s, the thrill-seeking buddies were weekend warriors, tackling activities such as rock climbing, wakeboarding and skydiving. They earned their pilots licenses in hopes of recreating some kind of “Top Gun”-inspired adventure, but their flight plan changed when they realized they could apply their skills to altruistic deeds.
Originally known as the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team, No Dog Left Behind is their passion project, not their full-time job.
Childs and his wife Linda are franchise owners of The Dog Stop, a doggie daycare and overnight boarding facility in Upper St. Clair. Plesset and his wife Megan run Shadyside at Home Apartments. Both women sit on the No Dog Left Behind advisory board and Megan Plesset serves as treasurer.
The couples are constantly fundraising and looking for other volunteer aviators.
Plesset and Childs recently partnered with Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. to create a buzz and help generate money for more land and air rescues.
The Los Angeles-based coffee roaster was started in Pittsburgh by Jordan Karcher in 2013. The company donates 20 percent of its profits to animal welfare and rescue organizations around the country. In addition, every cent made from the sale of its Rescue Roast blend funds a different organization every month.
It seems like the need will never end, but that just motivates Karcher to do more.
“I certainly feel waves of disappointment in humanity sometimes, but you get to meet so many amazing people who volunteer and work in animal rescue. They provide the optimism and hope that motivates us as a company. We are doing something about it,” says Karcher, who was inspired to start Grounds & Hounds by his own rescued Dalmatian, Molly.
Over the years, Grounds & Hounds has joined forces with hundreds of nonprofits, including local ones such as Animal Friends, Biggies Bullies and Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh. The company has provided 2.1 million shelter meals, 8,500 toys, 2,250 vaccines and 2,000 microchips — and has saved 2,750 canines from euthanasia.
Through the end of September, you can buy a bag of Rescue Roast to support No Dog Left Behind. The coffee is available online and at area retailers including various Giant Eagle Market District locations, Wagsburgh, Healthy Pet Products and Bryant Street Market. Raise a cup to pups on Wednesday, Sept. 29, which is National Coffee Day.
In August 2019, a Rescue Roast campaign generated more than $5,000 for Plesset and Childs’s pet project.
“We don’t really have miles and miles of donors, so that was a significant donation for us,” Plesset says.
Despite the grueling days, Plesset — who doesn’t touch his furry passengers lest his allergies act up — says he and Childs will continue to take to the skies to help creatures big and small.
“There is this moment in every rescue mission when the dogs are coming out of the shelter and they lock eyes with you,” Plesset says. “It sounds so corny and cliché, but you feel that connection. It’s intense. They know something good’s about to happen. These dogs start the day in danger and end the day in somebody’s loving arms.”