Four local cats took the ride of their life when they hopped on a single-engine plane and were transported to a cat’s paradise in California.

Cactus Cats Rescue of Ahwatukee takes in cats that have been abandoned or abused and they rely heavily on foster homes to take care of them. But four feral cats were unable to find a permanent home in Arizona so Ahwatukee Foothills resident Denise Cote was looking for a new place for them to go.

Through some online research Cote discovered the Cat House on the Kings, a large sanctuary with more than 600 cats roaming free on a property in California and living in peace. The cat house was willing to take the cats, but the problem was getting them there. It would take over 24 hours to transport the cats by car. The Cat House on the Kings offered a different option. They knew of a pilot whose nonprofit helps to transport rescued animals by plane.

On Wings of Care was officially formed in 2010 but Bonny Schumaker, founder and president of the nonprofit, said she’s been rescuing animals her entire life. At some point she decided to go to college for something she was good at, physics, rather than what she dreamed of, which was wildlife veterinary medicine. With a Ph.D. in theoretical physics she went and found a job to support herself, all the while living in a cabin and rescuing whatever animals came her way from squirrels and possums to deer and bobcats.

When she became a pilot and purchased her own plane 16 years ago, she knew she couldn’t afford to use her plane for fun but she realized there was a large gap in transportation in the animal rescue world.

“Only so many people can foster animals in certain locations, but there are people elsewhere who are ready and willing and wanting to take animals,” Schumaker said. “What was missing was that final link in the rescue. Now you’ve saved the animal and prepared it and now you need to get it to someone who really wants it. I started using my plane for that.”

Schumaker helps transport whatever animals come her way. She transports dogs and cats most often but she’ll also take rabbits and goats and whatever else she’s asked to take. She makes sure that every time she flies, she’s transporting an animal somewhere.

Her one rule for herself is that she has to be flexible. No matter what her plan is, she said, she always ends up taking more animals at the last minute or adding another stop. Somehow things always work out.

It’s not a cheap way to rescue. Schumaker says flights cost about $200 per hour with fuel and maintenance costs, but sometimes it does make more sense than traveling by land.

The Ahwatukee cats that were recently transferred had a five-hour plane ride as opposed to a 24-hour car ride and the cost was only a $100 difference.

On top of transporting animals for rescue, Schumaker also uses her plane to help with wildlife research. She can fly over oceans and spot whales, dolphins, turtles or sharks and then alert marine biologists in boats to their location so they can be counted or tracked.

Schumaker said flying overhead she can spot wildlife in a matter of hours that it would take days to find by boat.

“I always thought I would work full time and earn a living for another five to 10 years and then devote myself to this, but I realized the planet didn’t have five years,” Schumaker said. “I decided to live on very little and do everything I personally could to save it.”

To follow Schumaker’s rescues or to donate, visit her website at

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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