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Florida Businessman, Jeff Bennett, Flies 1000th Rescue Animal To Safety

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pilots n paws

Jeff Bennett has four rescue dogs of his own at home, so it's clear that he's passionate about protecting animals.

But he isn't your average armchair animal lover.

As a volunteer with Pilots N Paws, a South Carolina-based organization that rescues animals on the brink of euthanasia, the businessman and recreational pilot from Florida has taken his love for furry friends to the skies.

Last week, Bennett reached an incredible milestone when he flew his 1,000th rescue animal to safety.

“I never thought I’d be moving this many animals,” Bennett, 53, told TODAY.com. “I just really enjoy it, and I get to meet some of the best people out there.”

Bennett, who has been volunteering with Pilots N Paws since November 2008, said he first heard about the organization through an article in a magazine. He learned that the program, which is reliant on volunteers willing to offer their services at no cost, rescues animals by connecting shelters and rescue organizations with pilots and plane owners.

Bennett -- who owns a small plane of his own and has been flying since 1995 -- said the choice to sign up was a no-brainer.

"I've always loved flying and I love dogs so I put the two of them together. It was pretty much an easy thing to do," he told The Huffington Post.

Over the last three and a half years, Bennett, who lives in the Florida Keys, has transported a lot more than just dogs.

From pythons and pigs to rabbits and rats, Bennett has saved the lives of a wide variety of cute -- and creepy -- critters.

"A lot of this is about getting animals out of rural shelters where they don't have a chance to be adopted and getting animals out of kill shelters to rescue organizations," he explained.

All this good work has come at no small cost to Bennett himself. The grandfather of two said he spends about $16,000 of his own money every year transporting his precious cargo.

But he insists that every cent has been worth it.

"I get a lot of return," he said. "It's something I do for myself. That's how I make myself happy."

However, Bennett admits that the work can sometimes be upsetting.

"You know, one dog [or cat] is euthanized every 8 seconds in America. That's 76,000 a week or 4 million [pets] a year. So many people don't realize how bad the situation is," he said, adding that he hopes more people will realize how important it is to spay or neuter their pets to prevent overpopulation.

For his part, Bennett -- who has already transported his 1002nd rescue animal -- says he has no intention of slowing down his efforts.

Bennett is featured in Patrick Regan's new book “Dog Is My Copilot: Rescue Tales of Flying Dogs, Second Chances, and the Hero Who Might Live Next Door,” which was released on June 19.

Look at some of Bennett's most memorable rescues here:

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Filed by Dominique Mosbergen