Sandy Springs Pilot Flew Homeless Animals to Safety during Hurricane Irma

Stuart Kenney’s work as a Delta Airlines pilot usually finds him flying paying passengers to London, Central and South America, or Los Angeles.  But when Hurricane Irma threatened the lives of homeless cats on coastal Georgia, the Sandy Springs resident stepped up to fly a different kind of mission for Furkids Animal Rescue and Shelters, (FurKids.org) on his own time, for four-legged passengers whose time was running out. Furkids operates one of the largest animal rescue and shelter organizations in the Southeast, saving homeless cats and dogs, providing medical care and love, and matching them with loving families.

As Irma pounded toward the Georgia coast, Furkids realized that homeless animals in the coastal cities such as Savannah were in trouble.  While people were fleeing the cities, homeless animals in shelters had nowhere to go. The shelter caregivers were distraught, knowing they’d be forced to euthanize the animals in their care rather than leaving them to be trapped, drowned or killed by surging waters and hurricane-force winds.  Furkids put out urgent calls for volunteer pilots and drivers to rescue these cats and move them to safety in Atlanta.  Stuart Kenney is one who answered.

“It was my day off, the weather was still beautiful, and I was ready to help,” Kenney says.  On September 11, Kenney climbed into his personal Cessna 182 in Atlanta and flew to Statesboro, Ga., where he picked up 34 homeless cats from the Savannah area.  Volunteers had driven the animals to Statesboro, where it was quicker for a small plane to land and take off than at a larger airport such as Savannah or Brunswick.  Kenney initially thought he was picking up 22 cats, but when he landed at the strip in Statesboro, he found volunteers with 34 cat cages.

“I wasn’t sure we could fit all of them in the plane,” Kenney says.  “But I knew the cats who were left behind would be euthanized, so we found a way to stack them like dominoes and make room for every one.”    

During the flight, one of the cats escaped from its carrier and made its way to the cockpit, where it stood on the window ledge at Kenney’s left shoulder.  “I really didn’t want to move the cat, not knowing its temperament.  But when I needed to reach the controls, I had no choice,” he recalls.  “With a little bit of nervousness, I lifted the cat and sat him in the co-pilot seat.  He stayed there calmly through the rest of the flight.”

Kenney’s volunteer efforts, combined with two other volunteer pilots and a van driver, helped Furkids save the lives of 120 cats who likely would be dead today.  It was his first volunteer flight since he bought his plane a year ago.

Furkids took in animals from Effingham Animal Control, Okefenokee Humane Society, Long County Animal Control,  Animal Refuge Foundation of Wayne County,  Liberty County Animal Control and  Fort Stewart Military Animal Control. Some of the volunteers faced danger themselves as the storm approached, yet they all put animals first.

“Furkids is so grateful to Stuart Kenney and all of the volunteers and staff who took part in this massive rescue.  This rescue of 120 cats and dogs was heroic by any standards, and many of the animal control staff members or volunteers in danger zones rarely see rescue organizations coming to save their animals,” says Furkids CEO Samantha Shelton. “It took many dozens of brave people in the hurricane zones and Atlanta to see these animals through to safety.”  It brought such great joy and hope to so many volunteers and shelter workers to see rescuers taking endangered animals to good homes in Atlanta.”

Cat Shelter: 2650 Pleasantdale Road, Atlanta

Dog Shelter: 1520 Union Hill Road: Alpharetta

Give or adopt at FurKids.org