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Father-son duo flies paw-sengers to forever homes

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Stuart and Jay Jackson

FATHER-SON FLIGHTS Stuart and Jay Jackson volunteer their time and their six-seat 1996 Beechcraft A-36 to fly rescue dogs to new homes. Here, they’re pictured with their dog, Paco, who found his forever home with their family 12 years ago. (Photo:

It is not every day that one finds themselves in the back of an airplane, helping a dog who suddenly goes into labor. Especially a dog that no one knew was pregnant. When 16-year-old Jay Jackson found himself in that exact situation, he handled it like a pro, helping to keep the Catahoula-mix mama dog calm and comfortable. The new mom – who everyone had thought was just a little plump – delivered four healthy boy puppies soon after the flight landed. “I was a bit worried as I have no birth delivery experience, but there is always a first time for everything,” he said.  

Jay, a junior at Memorial Private High School, and his dad, Stuart, volunteer their time and the family’s six-seat 1996 Beechcraft A-36 to transport needy dogs for adoption. There are often too many animals in big city shelters, like in Houston, and not enough in rural areas and certain states, particularly in the north. Plus, many bigger, furrier dogs, like Huskies, are a good match for colder climates.

Stuart obtained his pilot’s license in the early ’90s when he was a bachelor living in Galveston during his residency in anesthesiology. He had wanted to take flying lessons since he was a kid but had never been able to afford it until then. Three decades later, Stuart is an instrument-rated pilot and enjoys flying with his family.

Rebecca Jackson, Stuart Jackson, Julie Jackson, Jay Jackson

FUR-EVER HOMES The Jackson family – Rebecca, Stuart, Julie, Jay, and Paco the Beagle – find joy in helping transport dogs in need to their new homes. (Photo:

Stuart and Jay started transporting rescue dogs to their new homes in 2021. “The opportunity to become a dog pilot volunteer started when an animal rescue group called me up out of the blue and needed some help transporting a dog that day,” Stuart said. “Being newly retired, bored, and bugging my wife constantly, I took the trip. I enjoyed it so much I decided to go on more flights.”

The father-son duo has traveled to smaller airports throughout Texas, and into Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma transporting Beagles, Terriers, Retrievers, Huskies, and every breed in between. 

Stuart commands the controls up front while Jay makes sure their paw-sengers are happy and calm in the back. The Jacksons have taken approximately 40 trips and have saved about 100 dogs. Jay goes on the flights as often as possible when he is not busy with school or rugby. Stuart calls Jay the dog whisperer.

Jay unloads the pups from the car into the plane, making sure they have water and are comfortable. He pets them and talks to them to help keep them calm during the flight. 

Jay especially likes that volunteering in this way gives him the opportunity to bond with his dad. "My friends think my dad is cool because he is a pilot. To me, it is just my dad being my dad. But after seeing him help all these animals find new homes, I agree – he really is cool!” 

Stuart Jackson

Stuart helped fly Lucky, a homeless Pitbull from Texas, to his new home in Connecticut. 

Many flights are arranged through Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit whose mission is to connect animal rescue groups with volunteer pilots. Stuart said, “Pilots N Paws facilitates communication between animal shelters, fosters, and people who have animals that need to be placed with volunteer pilots that can fly them, and the new happy homes for the relocated animals. It has also helped connect me with other volunteer pilots and animal rescues with whom to partner.”

Pilots N Paws was founded in 2008 to help tackle the huge pet overpopulation problem in the United States by transporting animals to new homes via the website. Today the organization has reached more than 5,000 pilots, 12,000 volunteers, and saved thousands of animals’ lives.  

For further-away destinations like the Northeast, volunteer pilots along the route will fly a leg of the trip. Stuart often flies the first leg to states bordering Texas.

Stuart said, “Pilots N Paws has a good web interface that allows you to select your trips: pick-up spots, distance to fly, and that sort of thing. We get daily emails about available trips. Once that is set up, the local shelter/rescuer will contact me, and we’ll work out the details. Some of the local rescues (and even national ones) will contact me directly if we’ve worked together before.”

Lucky’s new family

Lucky’s new family feel lucky to have such a sweet dog in their lives. 

The father and son have coordinated with a variety of organizations over the last few years. Stuart said he is impressed with the dedication of the staff and volunteers. “They all undergo significant personal sacrifices to care and rehome the animals.”

One local group the Jacksons have worked with is Save Some Souls, which was co-founded by West University resident Trisha Ray. Last fall, the group went into action after seeing a post on a West U Neighbor online group requesting assistance for dogs living in an unhealthy situation. Stuart had helped the organization before, so Trisha reached out to him directly. Stuart facilitated a happily-ever-after for a shy young German Shepherd named Cowgirl, who he flew to Shreveport, Louisiana. Additional pilots finished the journey to her new forever home in Delaware. 

Trisha said, “These dogs came from a terrible place, full of abuse and neglect. It was not possible to move them to their further-away forever homes with vans. We are so grateful to Stuart and all the pilots for taking them in such a short time. Stuart is so kind and generous and always offers to help whenever he sees there is a need for a pup to fly out of Houston.”


Now all grown up, the black and white dog, Pope, was one of the puppies whose mom went into labor on a rescue flight with Stuart and Jay. Here, Pope is pictured with his two new brothers. 

Stuart and Jay also work with city animal control offices, including Beeville in south Texas. Rhiannon Isbell, Animal Control Officer in Beeville, said, “Stuart and Jay are always kind when they arrive. Our pups that the Jacksons have transported never show signs of being frightened. Animals are good judges of character. I think it’s awesome how Stuart uses this time to spend with his son and that they care enough to devote their personal aircraft to save animals’ lives.” 

The Jacksons have also assisted the animal control offices for the city of Groveton, located in Trinity County, northeast of Houston. Stuart smiled, “The Groveton animal control folks always bring me a hot cup of coffee and some fresh donuts.”

The Jacksons keep their plane at the West Houston Airport; Stuart said they are thankful for Woody Lesiker, airport manager, director of operations, and the crew. Stuart said, “This is my home airport, and they are great about supporting Pilots N Paws and various other volunteer flying organizations in substantive ways. They are always kind about the dogs being out by the planes.” 

Woody responded, “I don’t really do that much. I just see Stuart being nice to the dogs and I make sure to point out where the grassy area is for his four-legged friends!”


Rescue dog Hella, enjoying a head rub from Stuart, is cozy on her new blanket that Julie sewed.

Recently, Stuart got creative persuading a shy, three-month-old Pitbull pup out of her crate and onto the plane. The pup had been neglected and abandoned, and was nervous. “We could have just plucked her out, but it would have been traumatizing and cruel, so I used ‘baconization.’ Being a Saturday morning, the airport was having a free pancake and bacon breakfast. Let’s say those items aren’t on my diet so I put my plate (extra bacon provided by the airport!) on the ramp and within a few minutes that bacon smell overrode her anxiety, and she popped out, gobbled down the bacon and got picked up for a hug! Dogs do like bacon!”

Stuart flew a leg of the pup’s journey to her new home in Connecticut. “The shyness melts away from these dogs fast when they sense they are in their forever homes. I truly do not know how they sense it, but they do.” Appropriately, the pup was later named Lucky, and is doing well these days. 

One of Jay’s favorite trips was with four Chihuahuas. “They started out very scared but began to get comfortable and wouldn’t leave me alone. By the end of the flight, all four of them were sitting in my lap!”

Another one of Stuart’s standout trips was with a senior, partially blind Basset Hound from South Texas. “When we picked up the dog in McAllen, the dog was lethargic and depressed, but by the time we landed in Beaumont he was wagging his tail, finding food and water by smell (or, hopefully, eyesight not as bad as advertised). The dog stayed a few weeks with a foster lady in Beaumont, who specializes in rehabilitating rescue dogs. She fattened him up and treated his skin issues. I was so happy to hear that the Basset Hound was relocated to his new home by a beach in New Jersey and is loving it.”

Julie Jackson

Julie was excited to give aviation-related names to sweet puppies Amelia (Earhart) and Orville (Wright).

Sometimes dog-rescue flights are a family affair, with wife Julie and daughter Rebecca joining in the fun. Rebecca, a 2023 graduate of St. Francis Episcopal High School, is a journalism student at the University of Missouri, so she doesn't get to take part in flights often, but she said she’s proud of her dad and Jay. 

Although mom Julie does not always join for the flight, she often sends gifts for the dogs. “Most of the time, we are with the dogs for just one leg of their journey and never get to meet their new owners. Stuart started giving the dogs toys and blankets for the trips to make them as comfortable as possible. It was not long before Stuart asked me if I would make the dogs personalized blankets, so their new owners knew they were receiving a special dog.” 

Julie sews flannel blankets and uses her embroidery machine to add whimsical artwork, such as a plane. If Stuart is given the dog’s name before a flight, Julie will add that too. 

Julie’s favorite memory of a dog rescue was when she got to name two adorable puppies. “It was my first time to get to name dogs; they usually come with their own names. Since it was their first flight, I thought they needed aviation-related names, so I decided on Orville (Wright) and Amelia (Earhart). We were happy that the names stuck with the new families!”

Jay Jackson

One of Jay’s favorite trips was with four chihuahuas, who snuggled in Jay’s lap during the flight. 

Paco, the Jacksons’ Beagle, knows firsthand how great the Jacksons are since he was lucky enough to find his forever home with them through Houston Beagle & Hound Rescue. Paco was a puppy when he joined the Jackson family, and has been part of the family for 12 years.

Jay and Stuart are happy they can help other pups find their forever home too. The Catahoula-mix mama dog they helped in labor, along with her four puppies, have all been adopted. All five dogs were named after characters from the TV series Animal Kingdom. The mom is Smurf, and the puppies are named after the boys on the show: Deran, J, Pope, and Craig. The Jacksons especially like that one of the pups is named J, like Jay their “labor nurse.” Smurf (the mama dog) and Craig went to New York; they live close to each other and play daily. Deran was a New York adoption too. J was adopted by a family in Fulshear, and Pope went to California to a horse ranch. 

Stuart said, “Jay and I love helping families welcome a nice new pooch into their homes and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

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