Throughout years of military service, Paul Steklenski honed his combat skills. He saw battlefields light up, heard the sounds of war, and suffered and survived all the horrors of armed conflict. But years after he rejoined civilian life, he faced another impossible mission.
After learning healthy dogs in shelters scattered across the United States were sentenced to be put down because of “kill shelter” policies, he knew he had all the tools necessary to save the pooches. The mystery, however, was how exactly he might put those skills to use…
During the 1990s, Paul Steklenski of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, trained army officers at Fort Knox. The man knew war, and in 2013 — years after he finished his service — the dog lover knew he was missing something in his life.
Paul Steklenski / Facebook
That missing something was a dog of his own! A sweet canine to wag her tail and greet him each morning. So the army veteran went to a local animal shelter to look for the perfect pooch. There, he found the perfect companion — and something else.
First he adopted a dog named Tessa, who’d been brought from a “kill shelter” in Tennessee by van. The idea fascinated him. A dog sentenced to die brought elsewhere by volunteers through a sort of underground railroad? Paul started thinking.
Paul Steklenski / Facebook
“I became so aware and more compassionate to all animals,” Paul said later. Cue the Mission: Impossible theme music because, thinking of all the animals in kill shelters, a mission presented itself to the combat veteran…
His mission, if he chose to accept it, was to liberate dogs imprisoned in kill shelters across state lines. As always, should he fail (or be captured by cats), the dog lovers of the world would be really disappointed in him.
The army veteran wasn’t one to turn down a mission — no matter how impossible. So he picked a team (Tessa the dog) and then visualized a plan of attack. First, he considered the mission’s challenges…
To succeed, Paul would have to sneak past the kill shelter’s defenses (okay, just get there); rescue the hostages, and transport them to safe places where they could make families happy. This would need supplies. Financing.
But Paul had been unknowingly preparing for the mission months before ever accepting it. See, in 2013, he started working at a company near his home. Every day on his new commute to work, he passed a small airfield…
“I don’t know why,” the veteran recalled, “but I just decided one day to go in and sign up for flying lessons.” He obtained his license weeks after adopting Tessa (and shortly after accepting his impossible mission). Somehow, he could use that to help dogs.
“I thought, this is a way I can use an ability I have to help move a large number of animals in a short amount of time,” Paul said. And to cut down on logistical nightmares, the veteran bought his own personal plane for $70,000.
Flying Fur Animal Rescue via NY Post
Later, in May 2015, Paul founded a non-profit called Flying Fur Animal Rescue. With an investment of a lot of his own cash, he had the supplies and financing. Now, it was mission time (cue that Mission Impossible theme again)!
Paul and Tessa took off from Pennsylvania and headed south, towards states where kill shelters were everywhere. Once he landed (we can only assume after avoiding detection from enemy radars) shelter operatives met him at the runway.
These operatives were employees waiting with about a dozen dogs. Working quickly — because lethargy is the enemy of impossible missions — Paul helped them load the dogs into the plane’s storage and the cockpit itself.
We like to imagine that, as Paul cruised down the runway with the rescued dogs, a crew of bad guys chased after the plane, shaking their fists and weapons as the combat veteran took off towards the sunset. But in truth?
It all went smoothly. Paul brought the dogs up north where he found new non-kill shelters, owners, or foster parents for the rescued hostages — uhh — canines. Freeze frame. Mission accomplished…Until Paul received another mission.
Over the next few years, Paul accepted hundreds of missions from self-destructing tape recorders (metaphorically, at least), each a little different from the last. On one mission, he transported 12 dogs; when he landed, 12 families waited to adopt one.
Later, another mission saw him rescue a dog named Henley, right, who’d been abused. The dog feared Paul, but the combat veteran brought him to safety nonetheless. Weeks later, he called Henley’s new owner.
“I just couldn’t let that go,” he said. He wanted to make sure the dog was happy — and in the new life Paul gave him, he was! By August 2017, Paul and Tessa rescued over 700 dogs from kill shelters all across the country. And he loved every minute of it.
“I’m part of them,” he said. “I see it, I experience it. I can remember each flight like it just happened.” But “it’s bittersweet in the sense that you’ve got to spend maybe two hours with them, and they start to bond with you a little bit, and now they’re moving on.”
Still, Paul never passed on a mission. “When it’s something you’re very passionate about,” he said. “I don’t think you really measure the amount of energy or time or sacrifice you put into it. You just do it.”
To understand a little bit more about Paul and his life-saving efforts, check out this video below. Just by watching how he interacts with these animals lets you know he’s the perfect man for the mission!