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Meet Bonny Schumaker: Pilot, Scientist, and a Dog's Best Friend

How far would you go to save an animal? For Bonny, the answer is -- very far indeed

Some people are just plain fascinating. Maybe they have just the right blend of the unusual --derring-do tempered by native intelligence and strength of character.  And adventures, lots of adventures.

They’re the kind of people who leave their mark on the world -- sometimes big, sometimes small, but somehow significant. They're also, incidentally, great conversationalists and everyone wants to sit next to them at dinner parties.

Take Bonny Schumaker. She’d be interesting even if she weren’t the president of an animal rescue organization.  Or someone who spends time in Antarctica saving whales. Or owns and flies a plane. Or was a student of Richard Feynman while on her way to a PhD in Physics.  Or recently retired from the Rocket Ranch  (a.k.a JPL)  and now engages in rescue and environmental activities full-time.

And just to continue the list of reasons why, if Schumaker and I were at the same dinner party, you probably wouldn’t notice if I left the room to wash the dishes, she lives, part of the year, in a cabin high in the clouds above Millard Canyon.  

And, around the cabin, Schumaker knows a couple of ravens and a red-tail hawk on a first-name basis.  And last year she played landlord to a bear who took up temporary lodgings in her tool shed.  And…

Oh stop me, already.  Really, this can go on forever, and then you’d ask for dessert and coffee and that would only mean more dishes.

So, circling back, Schumaker has done and is doing a host of extraordinarily interesting things.

Her rescue organization, On Wings of Care, has made more than 120 significant transport efforts and saved hundreds of animals (domestic and wild) since 2002.

On the domestic front, she and her team swoop in to save pets from life-threatening or abusive circumstances and fly them (usually in Schumaker’s Cessna)  to a place of sanctuary, often foster and permanent homes.

As she puts it, “I take animals from where they’re not wanted to where they’re wanted.”

This might mean transporting Chihuahuas to Canada, where some winter-bound folks want an indoor canine companion, or moving some sporting breeds from the north to the south, where year-round hikers have homes to offer.

In most cases, On Wings acts as a facilitator and means of transportation between rescue organizations, traveling south to Mexico, north to Canada, and all points in between.  When there’s a break in the chain, Schumaker and her team will sometimes take on the entire rescue and adoption project, nose to tail as it were.

 From my nodding acquaintance with animal rescue, I know that, on any scale, it’s a monumental test of logistics, networking, commitment, and hope. There are so many homeless pets and so few people who care.

Plus, there’s that little matter of money.  

“I can live on next to nothing,” Schumaker says.

But in the case of On Wings of Care, transportation isn’t free, even should the pilot donate her time. From what I can glean, members of the rescue team frequently dig into their own pockets to cover expenses for fuel and airplane maintenance.

And I haven’t even touched on some of their other clients, including turtles, raccoons, and foxes.  Yes, Schumacker’s Cessna has hosted some wild parties. Like the time she transported eight pelicans, free of cage or crate, in the back of her plane.

Most recently, she’s been working in tandem with other environmental groups, conducting aerial, sea, and ground environmental-use surveys and wildlife tracking, particularly in the Gulf region, during and after the oil-spill.

And in between missions?  

Schumaker’s cabin in Millard Canyon sits high on the hill. It’s about a quarter mile from the nearest dirt road, and cozy, uncluttered.  The trail to the cabin? Well, a river runs through it, and you’ve got to jump the river three times.

Which means everything she brings home, including food, must be carefully considered -- How big, how heavy, how necessary. What will it take to get it up the hill.

But Bonny is always involved in this thought process, in one way or another;  I think she’s always weighing what matters.

Natalie February 21, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Bonny also saved Millard Canyon from being burnt down in the Station Fire by pleading with the fire captain to save the cabins and the campsite. They were going to let it burn down and only save La Vina. We all owe her a great debt. I'm so proud she's an Altadenan.
Pasadena Adjacent February 21, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Now I remember...Bonnie. Interesting woman. It was she who brought the Pasadena Chihuahuas to Canada. If the Canadians are still looking for Chihuahuas, there's a ton of the pint size critters over at the San Gabriel Humane Society.
Elizabeth J. Sawyer-Cunningham February 21, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Loved reading about such an interesting and committed woman. We need lots more like her doing important environmental humane things.
Karin Bugge February 21, 2012 at 10:28 PM
PA, thanks for the info -- I'm assuming you mean the Chihuahuas found at the home of the hoarder last year? Nat and Elizabeth, how true.
Petrea Burchard February 23, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Altadena attracts the brilliant, the excellent, the unique. Bonny sounds a tad extra special, though.
PJ March 01, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Bonny sounds like she's having too much fun. Thanks for introducing us to her.

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