Coralville man makes 100th animal rescue flight

Tom Bragg's latest cargo gives 7 puppies a second chance

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Tom Bragg’s airplane this weekend was filled with some special cargo — seven small, furry passengers to be exact.

The Coralville pilot also was making a special flight — his 100th for groups that help rescue animals and get them to shelters across the country where they have a chance to be adopted.

Bragg, 54, began flying in 2007 and says he has a special place in his heart for animals. He now volunteers for the Pilots N Paws national non-profit.

“I was looking for a way to bring meaning to my flying, rather than just flying aircraft,” Bragg said. “I’ve been passionate about dogs and all animals. Pilots N Paws and was a great way to put two passions together: flying and rescue.”

To date, Bragg has helped to rescue 232 animals. He flew the most recent cargo Saturday from Mosby, Mo., to Cedar Rapids. His flight was the last leg of a more-than 800-mile flight that involved four pilots.

On Saturday afternoon, his plane touched down at Signature Flight Support at The Eastern Iowa Airport. Seven puppies from Wharton, Texas — everything from a pinscher-Chihuahua mix to a black lab mix — were unloaded and turned over to officials from Last Hope Animal Rescue of Cedar Rapids.

The dogs were cleaned, given booster shots and taken to foster homes by that night.

Though Bragg has worked with Pilots N Paws, Animal Rescue Flights and other animal rescue organizations for the last nine years, his devotion to help animals is not waning. Bragg’s wife works for Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center.

“Just making a positive impact in the lives of those animals is what sparks our passion,” he said. “The biggest thing is being the voice for those animals and opening opportunities they may not otherwise get.”

Bragg, who is from Texas, said the majority of flights that Pilots N Paws volunteers carry out bring abandoned animals from the South where animal rescue organizations are fewer and farther between.

Shelters or organizations looking to transport animals to another organization send notifications to pilots, who choose whether they want to fly the pets — and pick up the costs — for a portion of the trip.

“There is a concentrated effort on moving animals out of there,” Bragg said. “It’s an amazing program, and the numbers of pets that have been moved are in the thousands.”

For Bragg’s 100th flight, Amanda Rushton, a volunteer at Last Hope, presented him with a Last Hope T-shirt, hat and a thank-you card.

“You can tell how he was vested in getting them to their final destination,” Rushton said. “It’s hard to put a price on that on how great it feels to meet people like him.”

Rushton said the seven puppies that arrived were placed with foster families who can recommend what kind of household would best accommodate them when they are adopted.

Though Bragg said he is excited to have made 100 rescue flights, he is glad to see animals placed with families.

“Honestly it’s a milestone, but more important ... my last trip was 232 animals,” he said. “What that means is a second chance for each of those 232 animals to get (from) a place where they may not have had a positive outcome to a place with families waiting for them.”

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