Lifelong animal rescuer begins flying dogs to safety during pandemic


Wayne Wickline, formerly of Stowe, and daughter Cassidy prepare for a flight that will rescue several dogs at risk of euthanasia.

-STOWE-


By Lisa Mullen


Growing up in the historic Presston neighborhood of Stowe Township, Wayne Wickline’s love of animals began early. His family lived in a duplex in the former company town where neighbors’ animals were unleashed and free to roam.


“Everybody’s pet becomes your pet,” said Wickline. “I still remember the names of the animals from back in the 70s.”


His sister Denise Wickline, who lives in Presston, isn’t surprised by her brother’s current mission to fly dogs at risk of euthanasia to safety.


“Wayne has always rescued animals since he was little,” she said. “Our mom and dad never turned away any of the animals he brought home. It’s a value that he’s instilled in his own children.”


Wickline’s experience with flying began when he moved away from Presston to attend flight school in 1979 and continued as a pilot with American Airlines. Wickline currently lives in Dallas and has been flying for 42 years, with 30 of those as an airline captain.


Wayne Wickline and daughter Cassidy get the cockpit ready for flight. The Cessna 182 has currently been flown on an average of three rescue mission flights a week from Dallas.

His career was put on hold in February of 2020 when international flights were shut down because of COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic also affected his kids’ lives; his daughter Cassidy, 24, lost her job and his 26-year-old son Cody’s classes at the University of Massachusetts were switched to online.


As a result, the family were all at home and wondering how to fill their time, when they decided to get involved in animal rescue.


Texas has the highest rate of pet euthanasia in the country. Dog breeding there doesn’t require a license, resulting in many unwanted puppies.


“Some people look for the perfect puppy and there may be one or two out of every litter and then the rest get discarded,” said Wickline.


In Texas, where animal euthanasia is legal, when these unwanted animals are sent to shelters their lives are at risk.


This is where Wickline and other volunteer pilots come to the rescue. Shelter volunteers will list dogs online that are available for rescue, and pilots like Wickline will coordinate all the moving parts to make the rescue possible.


Pilots volunteer their time and planes to fly dogs out of Texas to safety. To get a dog to Minnesota, a state that has outlawed euthanasia, Wickline may fly a dog from McAllen, Texas to Tulsa, Okla., where other pilots will receive the dog and continue its journey.


One of Wickline’s children usually accompanies him on each trip and does most of the flying. Wickline says he just comes along to supervise and to teach them to be the best pilots they can be.


Since all these rescue missions are purely volunteer, Wickline pays for the airplane, hangar, insurance and maintenance, plus the occasional hotel out of his pocket. Flying an average of three rescue missions per week, Wickline has flown his Cessna 182 more than 24,000 miles since January 2021, and has spent approximately $9,000 this year in fuel alone. He has been able to raise $5,000 through fundraising efforts to defray the costs of these rescue missions and continues to accept donations through his Facebook page.

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