An Army veteran learned how to fly and bought his own plane so he could rescue hundreds of death row dogs.
Kind-hearted Paul Steklenski, 45, forked out £50,000 for an aircraft which he fills with crates of unloved pups facing euthanasia.
The tank operator-turned-IT expert realised he wanted to save animals after adopting a homeless pooch, Tessa, from a rescue centre.
At first, Paul considered driving to kill shelters in the US and transporting the canines elsewhere by road to help them find owners.
But he knew he would be able to give dozens more abandoned pets new lives if he transported them in another way.
He had coincidentally started learning how to fly in 2013 as a hobby, but realised at the same time that he wanted to rescue animals, so went on to get his licence.
Then in May 2015 he set up Flying Fur Animal Rescue and says he’s single-handedly saved 742 animals since then, many which were neglected or abused.
In February the US Army ex-serviceman of eight years – an SPC who trained troops in Kentucky, USA – even bought his own PLANE to help with the task.
Paul, of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, said: “When I first started flying there were times when I wanted to quit because I didn’t think I could do it, but I kept going back.
“Once I became certified I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’
“A lot of pilots like to fly to restaurants or nice places and that is great, but for me I had to have a different reason to go in the air.
“Seeing the dogs at the shelter was heartbreaking. It was horrible to think that there were so many animals being euthanised because they’re stuck in a certain area.
“The further south you go the more there is a pet overpopulation problem. It is distressing.
“I realised I could help make a difference by going down there, picking them up and taking them to other shelters.
“The plane is a tool that allows me to do a lot in a day that I couldn’t do with a bus.
“It’s an extremely emotional job but it’s very rewarding.”
Paul, who lives with his wife, fellow IT expert Michelle, 46, takes off a day or a half day once a month to fly to shelters, where he picks up some cats as well as dogs.
In order to transport the animals, he ripped up the interior of the five-seater Beechcraft Bonanza and bought a host of pet carriers to place in the back.
The caring pilot, who went on to adopt a second dog himself, Layla, now loads as many dogs and cats as he can squeeze onboard in one go – as many as 23 in one trip.
He flies to North Carolina and takes them to shelters in other states where there’s a better chance they’ll be adopted.
But though it’s a battle finding the funds, he says actually making the cross-country trip with dozens of dogs is straightforward.
Paul, who does not have children, said: “Once the engine starts up they fall asleep or will stay awake and look out of the windows.
“It’s always very quiet. I have never had an issue. I have a feeling they know better things are going to happen for them.”
When the dogs arrive at their destination – various shelters around New Jersey and Pennsylvania – Paul knows they’re safe.
None of the shelters he delivers to euthanises animals, unlike those he rescues from.
He added: “It is very rewarding. It’s not only the animal it makes a difference to – that dog or cat is going to be affecting someone new.
“There have been a few mistreated dogs. One in particular was so badly abused that it couldn’t be around men.
“Seeing him now is incredible. He has been adopted and is looking so much better.”
Now Paul hopes to upgrade his small plane to one with more seats – so he can carry more animals.
He said: “It’s extremely emotional, but I will do this for as long as I can afford to.
“I hope to inspire other people to get involved.”
To find out more about Paul’s rescue efforts and donate, visit flyingfuranimalrescue.org