A record producer on albums by rock ’n’ roll acts like Poison, Joan Jett and Ted Nugent, 63-year-old Ric Browde made a habit of living on private jets, flying from coast to coast to help craft the music that hordes of fans would be singing months later.
The Beverly Hills producer and author still spends much of his time on charter airplanes — he flew nearly 200 times last year — but gone are the days of sharing smoky plane cabins with willowy women, raucous rockers and a deluge of drugs.
Nowadays, it’s just him, a pilot and a gaggle of animals — not party animals, just your regular four-legged kind — typically taken from at-capacity animal shelters or kill shelters that he then relocates to more suitable homes across the country.
“I think the pets are far more well-mannered than the bands I worked with,” Browde said. “Thankfully our flights aren’t scratch and sniff.”
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Browde’s Los Angeles-based nonprofit Wings of Rescue, which he describes as the “Red Cross of pets,” stopped by South Florida on Wednesday to pick up nearly 50 dogs and cats from Miami-Dade County Animal Services and fly them out to the Brandywine Valley SPCA in Pennsylvania.
The Miami-Dade shelter, which has an open admission policy, is nearly always at capacity, said Yolanda Berkowitz, a local philanthropist and pet rescue activist who lobbied Browde to conduct his first official transport mission out of Miami-Dade. So regular transports help ensure the shelter can continue accepting the animals others won’t.
The nonprofit’s chartered Fairchild Metroliner took off around 10 a.m. from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport with a cabin full of pets including Australian and German Shepherds, Cattle dogs, Boxers and tabby cats, Browde said.
During last year’s hurricane season, Wings of Rescue conducted 15 flights out of Florida, including one stop in South Florida the day before Hurricane Irma was set to strike, Browde said. The nonprofit also flew to Texas and Puerto Rico during the natural disasters there, delivering aid and reuniting pets with their evacuated owners. Since its founding in 2012, the nonprofit has relocated about 30,000 dogs and cats to shelters better suited to house them.
He said Valentine’s Day was a perfect opportunity to open his heart to South Florida’s pets, all of whom will be adopted.
“Because it’s a day of love,” he said. “It’s healthier than a box of chocolates.”
The plan was set into motion about two months ago, when Berkowitz, who sits on the board of the United Way of Miami, spoke with Browde and told him about the shelter’s need. Berkowitz herself has privately coordinated the relocation of about 100 pets out of the county, in part through her Friends of Miami Animals Foundation nonprofit, she said.
“When she puts her mind to something, magic starts happening — always for the good,” Browde said of Berkowitz.
Berkowitz said Wednesday’s trip out of South Florida is part of a bigger haul by Wings of Rescue, which will be transporting about 500 pets during the day of love. Although Wings of Rescue has its own plane, Browde said he was forced to charter a bigger one because Wednesday’s haul includes about 20 big dogs, which require more space. Taking advantage of the size upgrade, Browde will be stopping in Greenville, South Carolina, to pick up some stragglers.
So what’s it like to be the only human on a plane full of animals?
Before takeoff, Browde hand picks a couple of lucky pets who get to roam the cabin with him. That’s the fun part. The rest remain in their crates with personal water bowls.
Older dogs, much like older children, behave better than their younger friends, he added. Once the plane reaches 10,000 feet, many fall asleep. When the plane descends, they wake up barking or meowing.
“Imagine, sometimes we have 200 pets on a plane, all of them asking, are we there yet?” Browde said.
The key to a successful flight is to make sure the animals eat and go to the bathroom prior to flying. Air quality may be affected otherwise.
And afterward, Browde and his team have to clean up the cabin before returning the plane to the charter company. That’s the not-so-fun part.
“It’s not for the people with strong senses of smell,” he said.
Browde got involved in animal welfare about 10 years ago, after determining his career in music and books could afford him time for personal, philanthropic ventures.
He produced the 1987 multi-platinum album “Look what the cat dragged in” by Poison, a glam-rock band led by frontman Brett Michaels. Browde is also credited with co-writing and co-producing Joan Jett's “Up Your Alley” album in 1988. His 2000 novel “While I’m Dead… Feed the Dog” was turned into the 2014 movie “Bad Behavior,” starring Selena Gomez.
After volunteering at high-kill shelters in California, and seeing about 1,000 animals being killed every month, he took the reins at the donor-reliant Wings of Rescue about four years ago.
“Nobody had ever, previous to what we’ve done, did both sides of the pet equation like gone into disaster areas but brought stuff in as they went out on the large scale like we did,” Browde said. “And we just felt that there was a need for that.”
Although he still produces records in Europe and is currently working on other books, Browde said nothing beats the feeling of helping animals find permanent homes.
“It never gets old,” he said. “I did 184 flights last year, and every time the door shuts and you know you’re saving some pets, it’s a pretty good feeling.”