Pandemic Closes Restaurants, Owner Flies to Save Dogs

11 January 2021

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

When the coronavirus health crisis closed the businesses of a restaurant owner in Chicago, he decided to get involved in something else -- saving animals!

Eduard Seitan is co-owner and operator of nine restaurants and food supply businesses in Chicago. But he also is a volunteer airplane pilot for Pilots-n-Paws, an animal rescue organization. On its website, Pilots-n-Paws says its efforts have led to the rescue of over 150,000 animals.

Seitan himself has flown over 25 missions and has transported about 60 animals to safety. His fiancée Debbie often flies with him on the rescue missions.

Pilot Eduard Seitan and his fiancee, Debbie, in front of his plane. They are preparing to deliver rescue dogs to their new home.
Pilot Eduard Seitan and his fiancee, Debbie, in front of his plane. They are preparing to deliver rescue dogs to their new home.

"The stuff that I see that humans do to their dogs drives me absolutely crazy. Like, Debbie showed me a video yesterday of a dog that was so ... so badly injured ... that I could not stop crying."

All the animals, Seitan explains, are being rescued from kill shelters. These shelters destroy pets that do not find new owners after a period of time. The animals also are rescued from unhealthy conditions. Most of the dogs, he said, have suffered great abuse.

The Pilots-n-Paws website is a meeting place for animal rescue volunteers, volunteer pilots, and plane owners. Seitan heard about the organization in 2018 and quickly joined as a volunteer.

A few days later, on New Year's Eve, he flew his first mission. A dog named Phoebe was heading to a kill shelter. Seitan's part of the mission was to fly the dog to Missouri and then another pilot was to fly her to her new home in Idaho.

The mission was a success. Phoebe was saved. The dog's new owner, a blind woman, recently sent Seitan a picture of Phoebe and her together. The woman's husband wrote that Phoebe has brought great happiness to his wife's life.

After that first mission, Seitan was hooked. He wanted to save more dogs and other pets.

"Besides Phoebe, do you have any other missions that stick out in your memory?"

"Oh, most of them, my God. I can recite almost every single one..."

He talks lovingly of Bella, a dog that wandered into the U.S. diplomatic offices in Bosnia-Herzegovina and would not leave. Diplomats there flew the dog to Chicago and then Seitan flew Bella to her new home in Wisconsin.

Another of Seitan's missions was to save a dog named Hero. Hero was severely abused. He was used as a target while humans shot fireworks at him.

"Hero was used for target practice for fireworks, so he had... Oh my gosh. Yeah, he was just as target practice and he had burns everywhere - burns on his forehead, hind legs, belly, everywhere."

Seitan said he has long been a dog lover. Flying airplanes came later. However, flying was a childhood dream that almost did not happen. When he was young, a neighbor in Romania told Seitan that he would never be a pilot. So, he forgot his dream of flying.

He did not realize his dream until 2007. That year, a customer threatened to never eat at his restaurant again if Seitan did not come flying with him. Not wanting to lose a long-time customer, Seitan agreed. Soon after, he bought his own plane for about $34,000 and has not stopped flying.

Chicago's restaurants hit hard by COVID-19

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Seitan grew up in the mountains surrounding that city. During our interview, he shared a detail from his childhood in Romania.

"Let me just say to you and to your audience that I grew up in Romania listening to Voice of America on shortwave radio. ("Get out!") Oh, absolutely. My dad had a big radio and that was a nightly thing that we did. We sat around the table [at] dinner time and we listened to Voice of America. For us, that was a lifeline. That was the only way to get outside news. So, yeah, I thank Voice of America for that."

In 1992, Seitan moved to the United States and began working in the restaurant business.

He was good at it. Seitan and his business partner employed more than 1,000 people in their 11 restaurants and food shops. But when the COVID-19 health crisis hit, they had to close two businesses permanently. Most of the others remain closed for winter. They also had to cut their number of employees to about 100.

Many Chicago restaurants have not survived, even well-known ones. Seitan's restaurant, Blackbird, is one of them.

"Every day you see news about another victim of the pandemic, another beloved restaurant, closing down. When we closed Blackbird, there was an outcry because Blackbird is ... was the oldest, fine dining, Michelin-starred restaurant in the city."

When talking about his food service businesses, Seitan is looking toward the future. He hopes spring will bring better times for Chicago's restaurant culture.

He also believes in luck and knocks on wood to get a little of it.

"And now we have about nine shops or so. Some of them are dormant for this winter. Let me knock on wood, hopefully we'll -- I just knocked on wood -- hopefully, we'll re-open all of them in the spring!"

But for now, Seitan is putting his time, money, and energy into helping these animals. He says it is his way of helping.

"We all give back in our own ways. Everyone does something. And this is my way."

It has also helped him get through this period of uncertainty.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

mission – n. a specific task with which a person or a group is charged

fiancée – n. a woman engaged to be married

pet – n. a tame animal kept as a companion rather than for work

crazy – adj. unable to think in a clear or sensible way

hooked – v. fascinated by or devoted to something

sticks out – v. to be prominent or conspicuous : to be obvious and clear

recite – v. to repeat from memory or read aloud publicly

customer – n. one that purchases a commodity or service

knocks on wood – interjection said to ward off bad luck

dormant – v. not doing anything at this time : not active but able to become active