This month small-plane pilots are taking to the air to help save 5,000 animals from high kill shelters across the country. The pilots are all part of a non-profit organization called Pilots N’ Paws that was founded last year by Jon Wherenberg. He’s a retired pilot, who decided he had to do something after he found out that six million animals are euthanized in shelters every year, mostly because of overcrowding.

So how does Pilots N’ Paws work? It’s basically a message board. Animal rescue operations post a note about any animals they need moved. Then, pilots volunteer to fly the pets to a safer shelter. So far, more than 600 pilots have signed up, and 1,000 animals have been saved. Pilots N’ Paws picks up most of their rescues from southern states, where homeless animals are a huge problem for two reasons: Hurricane Katrina and not enough neutering. After Katrina, over 100,000 dogs were left homeless and only a few thousand were ever reunited with their families. Now, four years later, many of those animals still need help, and shelters in the south are overcrowded and overwhelmed. Also, in southern states, spaying and neutering is less common than in the north, which means a lot more animals are being born without homes. The problem is SO big, that Wherenberg decided Pilots N’ Paws needed to step it up a notch. So, he created the “Pilots N’ Paws 5,000” event.

He and his team of volunteer pilots will try to save 5,000 pets in just one week, a pretty big undertaking considering that in the past year and a half, Pilots N’ Paws has rescued 1,000 animals total. To Wherenberg it’s not about success or failure. It’s about helping animals that can’t help themselves. He also hopes that if “Pilots N’ Paws 5,000” gets enough media attention, he’ll be able to sign up more pilots and more rescue organizations and save even more animals from being put down or spending their lives in crowded shelters. “Pilots N’ Paws 5,000” kicks off on September 12th and goes until September 20th. If you want to find out more, or donate your time, go to PilotsNPaws.org.