A Dog’s Best Friend
Normally when a high school student looks to give back to the community, they look for opportunities within their school or local charities such as the Humane Society. It is a rare individual that truly thinks outside of the box and looks to take to the wide, blue skies. Huey O’Neil, a 14-year-old resident of Delray Beach and a freshman at Pine Crest High School in Boca Raton, is such a person. He combines his love of flying and dogs as the youngest pilot with the Pilots N Paws Pet Rescue service.
Huey was initially hooked on the idea of flying when a friend of his grandfather took him in the air for his first flight a few years ago. Instead of looking forward to his driver’s license, this amazing young man went for flying lessons and kept looking for excuses to get back up into the sky. “It seemed the next thing to do, combining my love of dogs and planes together,” Huey says. When he found out about Pilots N Paws, it was a natural fit.
Pilots N Paws (PNP) is a non-profit volunteer organization of general aviation pilots who connect with one another to provide transport to safe havens for pets in need. The organization’s first official flight took place back in February of 2008. Since then it has grown to over 1,800 small plane general aviation pilots – with Huey being the youngest among their ranks.
Huey’s first rescue flight was a flight from Milton, Fla. to Kissimmee to ferry a pair of Weimaraners named Jet and Levi. “It was amazing for my first flight,” he shares. He has since been part of six rescues with PNP, including a project last October called “Operation Special Delivery” where over 60 pilots flew to Georgia to pick up dozens of pets and fly them to Washington, D.C. where they could be ferried to safe havens across the country.
Now, armed with two-and-a-half years of training and over 156 hours of flight time, Huey is even more enthusiastic about his work with PNP. A self-confident pilot doesn’t betray his age when behind the stick of a plane; but when his mother, Regina O’Neil, says he can fly as much as he wants as long as he keeps up good grades and a good attitude, his youthful exuberance comes through. “Really? As much as I want?” he chimes in with a wide smile.
When asked what was next for him, his response was: “I’m thinking helicopters in the summer.”