ST. LOUIS David Backes was searching for an activity to keep busy during the NHL All-Star break, and a decision to combine his passions of flight and animal rescue saved three stray dogs.
Last Friday, Backes, the St. Louis Blues' captain, participated in a seven-hundred mile mission to Houston with his wife, Kelly, and his flight instructor, Tim Voithover. Upon landing, they picked up the animals from a group in the city that is partnered with Five Acres Animal Shelter, a no-kill shelter in St. Charles, Mo., for which Kelly serves as a volunteer and board member.
In the process, Backes made progress toward earning a pilot license. On Christmas 2010, Kelly presented her husband with the gift of a flight lesson. Since, the Blues center has worked toward becoming a licensed pilot. The couple is known for animal advocacy around the St. Louis area, and they decided to take advantage of a chance to earn flight hours while advancing a cause close to their hearts.
"I have been taking flight lessons for about a year now, and my wife and I are obviously actively involved with animal rescue," said Backes, who leads the Blues with 37 points. "I figured over the break if I wasn't going to the (All-Star) game, we should do something to combine the two. We had a day to head down there, and my flight instructor was willing to help out, and we had someone who was willing to donate their plane. The stars kind of aligned, and we made it happen."
The three dogs were rescued in an eight-hour round-trip journey. One is a lab mix, another is a border colliechow mix, and the other is a rottweilershepherd mix. Ernie, Emmitt and Lincoln will be placed on the adoption floor in about a week.
"They're pretty priceless for getting the word out in the community about rescuing and adopting," Kim Brown, executive director of Five Acres Animal Shelter, said of Kelly and David Backes. "They both bonded with the three dogs that they transferred. They're both really sweet. Getting that press coverage those dogs have been very popular. It helps the three dogs find a home quicker. David, of course, is super excited about getting his license. For both of them, it's very rewarding to help dogs while they're doing it."
Kelly has been passionate about animals since she was a girl. She remembers being raised around dogs, and she recalls finding stray cats and trying to find homes for them. Growing up, she also played with frogs and salamanders, and to this day, she describes herself as "an animal person."
To Kelly and David, the response to their flight has been encouraging. Both anticipate continuing their campaign to provide animals with homes and fight euthanasia, which affects about 3-4 million animals in the United States each year. David's success this season adds awareness to the couple's cause: In addition to leading the Blues in points, he paces the team in goals (16) and assists (21).
After exiting the plane in St. Louis, Backes smiled and spoke about how rewarding it was to see the dogs happy and safe. He found an activity that combined his two passions. As a result, three dogs were saved.
"It's always a feel-good story when athletes give back to the community," Backes said. "When there's animals involved, that touches people in a whole other way. It was very well received not just this flight transporting these dogs, but the community of animal rescue work has been phenomenal since I've been involved with it. We hope that continues."