Jet set vet: It’s like Flying Doctors without the people, or Bondi Vet without beaches

It’s a cross between the “Royal Flying Doctors and Bondi Vet” – a new Queensland service providing life-saving flights nationwide to animals needing urgent care.

Feb 13, 2024, updated Feb 13, 2024
The Animal Rescue crew about to set off on a rescue mission. (Image Digby Hogan).

The Animal Rescue crew about to set off on a rescue mission. (Image Digby Hogan).

The burgeoning service was born 20 months ago out of merging the passions of Brisbane private pilot Digby Hogan and his partner Nicole Manns, Queensland’s Safe Haven Animal Rescue’s treasurer and committee member.

Animal Air Rescue (ARR) runs on donations from the corporate and animal welfare world as well the resources of the couple.

Mr Hogan said the idea for ARR started after he overheard  Ms Manns discussing the difficulties in transporting animals in need with a Safe Haven colleague.

“There were some cases where the trips were too far by road or couldn’t happen because of the location and then the animal was put down or perished because (Safe Haven Rescue) couldn’t get to it in time. I thought I’ve kind of a got a way of doing those things quickly.

“I had this idea of being like the Royal Flying Doctors meets the Bondi Vet,’’ Mr Hogan said.

Recently AAR and Safe Haven did an urgent dash to airlift Floyd, an eight-month-old border collie who had been left to perish after he suffered a vicious dog attack.

His leg had to be amputated and his health deteriorating rapidly with the threat of losing a second leg. Floyd was flown to Redcliffe where he was met a veterinary specialist and taken for further surgery and care.

“Floyd wouldn’t have survived if we transported him by road. He was in critical care in the veterinary hospital for four week and without that he wouldn’t have survived,’’ Ms Manns said.

The ARR also travelled to Adelaide to relocate seven animals which had been confined to a bedroom in a house which was owned by a hoarder.

Ms Manns said when ARR arrived in Adelaide the aviation community rallied to ensure they had a quick take off to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular and extra water was given to the animals.

“I think probably what’s resonated is how well the small communities come together when we are coming to the remote areas to pick up animals. The locals always show with coffee, sandwiches or snacks.  A lot of people track Digby through the Flight Radar app and people will come and say hi. The aviation community come together too…” she said.

Mr Hogan said Brisbane business Team Aviation provides ARR with Cirrus planes– a model with a parachute attached to its fuselage in the event of engine failure to allow the plane to “float” safely to the ground.

“So in terms of providing a safe environment, not only for the animals, but also for the pilots that work with us and the volunteers that come with us,” he said.

Aviation fuel needed for the flights are funded with half raised by animal welfare organisations and the other half matched by Mr Hogan and Ms Manns.

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Mr Hogan,  who  co-owns post production company Empire Post with Ms Manns, also uses his filmmaking skills to help educate Australians about animal welfare via social media.

Currently the ARR does fortnightly runs airlifting animals in need but often are called on “very short notice” with the most common flights along the east coast from Cairns down to Tasmania and across to Adelaide.

“There’s rarely a schedule in terms of distance. It’s pretty much anywhere. We will usually be approached by a rescue organization who is looking to take on some animals or you know, pick up an animal and have it transported or moved, aid being whatever is required,’’ he said.

Vets will often travel with ARR or one is available for in-flight assistance depending on the condition of the animal.

Ms Manns said there currently is a “combination of bad situations” behind the spike in surrenders including dogs adopted during COVID with behavioural problems stemming from separation anxiety, backyard breeding and the cost of living crisis.

“Personally what we’re seeing as the biggest impact at the moment, is the cost of living having a roll on effect. A lot of rural pounds are completely inundated, like full beyond capacity, with dogs and puppies and cats and kittens. And some of that is surrendering because the owners can no longer afford to feed or look after their animals. Some rural areas no longer have either access to vet clinics or the cost of desexing has become so expensive,’’ she said.

Ms Manns said the end goal for ARR is to be an established not for profit with a roster of pilots, vets, and animal rescuers who work together doing more rural and remote emergency transports.

In their plans for ARR Mr Hogan said he is exploring the idea of using volunteer graduate pilots who need to build their flying hours between getting their commercial licence and being employed.

The couple are looking at applying the same idea with graduate veterinarians joining their network to expose them to a “real world regional experience”.

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