Taking Flight

April 4, 2023

by Kate Albertini and Megan Kropf, NEADS Breeding & Puppy Development

In the fall of 2022, NEADS bred one of our broods, Cameron, to a stud dog named Felix from Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD). As part of our agreement, Southeastern Guide Dogs, located in Palmetto, FL, was to receive a female puppy from Cameron’s litter when the puppy was eight weeks old. (The litter, born on November 24, was aptly named the Thanksgiving Dinner litter.) Gravy* was selected as the SEGD puppy.

Not many dogs have their first airplane ride when they’re eight weeks old, but thanks to Puppies in Flight (PIF), a program offered by American Airlines (AA) through Assistance Dogs International (ADI), puppies like Gravy can be safely transported where they need to go. NEADS takes part in approximately 20 PIF transports each year.

Puppies in Flight was started in 2014 to help move puppies and dogs between ADI-accredited Service Dog and Guide Dog organizations. Each year approximately 180 dogs are transported through this program by about 150 American Airlines employees. The employees volunteer their time and use

their flight benefits to fly puppies in the cabin as Service Dogs in Training to various airports in the United States and Canada. The dogs must be at least 8 weeks old, have proper vaccinations, and travel with a current valid health certificate.

AA volunteers go through an orientation and hands-on training with dogs and puppies. In March, NEADS hosted three AA volunteers for the hands-on portion of their training. Breeding and Puppy Development Coordinator Megan Kropf taught the volunteers how to work with both an adult dog and a puppy. They learned how to use different equipment, what to be prepared for in an airport while walking with a Service Dog, and the commands the dogs or puppies typically know.

A lot of coordination is involved in the transports.

To get Gravy to SEGD, NEADS started by posting a travel request for her to fly from Boston to Tampa. AA employee Brandon volunteered for the job. Once he let us know which flight he was taking, NEADS arranged for Ellen Ferri, one of our transport volunteers, to deliver Gravy to Brandon at Logan Airport. At the other end, Southeastern Guide Dogs arranged for one of their volunteers to pick up Gravy when she arrived in Tampa with Brandon.

Gravy, now named Birdie, is with a Southeastern Guide Dogs Puppy Raiser and is learning all the basics in her Guide Dog training.

*NEADS puppies receive temporary names in the Breeding Center; they receive their official names once they enter a training program.