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Chicago restaurateur uses pandemic downtime to fly at-risk dogs and cats to safety

The COVID-19 pandemic may have affected Eduard Seitan’s livelihood, but it didn’t stop him from helping others in need – particularly animals.

In 1992, Eduard came to the U.S. from Romania when he was only 19 years old. He didn’t speak a word of English back then, but he got a job in construction, which he kept for a few months. After that, he worked as a food runner at the Italian Club Lucky since he spoke Italian.

Eduard learned English over the next few years and was promoted to a server position before becoming the head server. In 1997, he became a partner in One Off Hospitality Group, which opened multiple restaurants in Chicago.

When the pandemic started in March, restaurants across the country were forced to shut down operations. Eduard and his partners stopped receiving salaries but still had to let go of over 700 employees. They also had to close two of their restaurants permanently.

Eduard, now 48, said the “uncertainty was terrible.” He dreaded the winter months when it will be too chilly for diners to eat outside. He said his restaurants are now operating at 40% capacity and offering take out. Still, they’re struggling to cover mortgage payments.

Just like everyone else, Eduard had a lot of extra time on his hands during the quarantine. But instead of using this opportunity to wind down, the businessman used it to help animals in need.

Two years ago, Eduard volunteered for Pilots N Paws, a non-profit that pairs pilots with dogs and cats at risk of being euthanized.

He owns an old airplane—which he said costs less than most cars on the road—and uses it to transport dogs from high-kill shelters to no-kill facilities and foster families in the country.

Eduard says flying is his “happy place.” He has flown over 40 pets to safety so far.

On October 14, he transported two dogs from Chicago to Ohio. Frank, a German short-haired pointer, was found abandoned in the middle of nowhere. The poor dog was skin and bones. The other pup, Hero, a mixed-breed dog, suffered from burns on his forehead, legs, belly, and back because he was used as a fireworks target practice.

Eduard with Frank, Hero, and his fiancée, Debbie Li | Facebook

Such cruel acts fill Eduard with anger and sadness, but at the same time, he’s also inspired by these animals’ resilience and ability to trust again. Frank and Hero were both very relaxed during their flight, and Eduard feels honored to have served them this way.

Incredibly, Eduard said he’s never had a dog that acted upset while they’re up in the air.

“Sometimes dogs are a little shy to get in the plane. But as soon as you start the engine, they kind of chill,” he shared. “They do really well.”

Eduard has two rescue dogs at home and volunteers to care for dogs whenever possible for the Chicago Animal Care and Control. He also merged his food business with his advocacy by including a photo of an adoptable dog from CACC whenever customers order takeout from Avec, one of his restaurants.

One Off Hospitality also implemented the #WeFoster program, which connects employees with local foster and adoption opportunities. It also helps cover the cost of food and care for pets.

To Eduard, having so much free time on his hands is a blessing in disguise. That’s because his relaxed schedule allowed him to fly more pets for Pilots N Paws, which means more animal lives being saved.

“I think it does so much to your soul when you start volunteering, in general, for anything,” he said. “But for me, because of my love for animals, it makes me feel so good and so complete and so happy at the end of the mission knowing that I helped an animal to get to a better life.”

Help save animals at risk of being euthanized by making a donation to Pilots N Paws.

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