Mark House

Mark House and his son Dylan founded Code3 Animal Rescue Aviation to help pets that require long-distance travel to get to their new homes.

At the Trenton–Robbinsville Airport, Mark and Dylan House are in a building by the quiet runway outside, hoping to explain the virtue of saving animals. It’s a small team of dedicated people who volunteered this weekend, all eagerly waiting for the time to get to work.

Mark House proudly shows off his sizable photo album of Code3 Animal Rescue Aviation Team’s success stories, recounting the hardships and emotional journeys thus far. There’s pictures upon pictures of dogs, cats, even raccoons, all with thankful expressions.

Code3 is a nonprofit rescue organization that uses planes to transport animals in need free of cost, usually to other related groups or causes, like shelters. Being saved can be the key to one day being adopted by a loving owner.

“It’s a matter of life or death,” he said. “Every animal is urgent, especially if they’re sitting on death row or they need medical care.”

The name Code3 comes from Mark’s days in the firefighting world as a volunteer for Mercerville Fire Company. Instructions for responding varied from Code 1, no lights and sirens, Code 2, lights but no sirens, and finally Code3, with both blazing to show time was of the essence.

Known affectionately as “Uncle Mark,” he also has a full-time job with a media organization on top of running Code3 as its president and executive director. Born and raised in Trenton, he now lives in Hamilton, where the organization is based.

The story of Code3 starts with House’s rescued husky, Bella, who was flown from California to New Jersey in 2018 by a group called Pilots N Paws. At the time, Dylan House was a student pilot, and it seemed like a natural combination of appreciation and aviation for the family to help out with transporting for the nonprofit.

“The more we dug in, that’s when we realized it’s not just one or dogs that need transport, there’s animals all over the United States that are trying to get somewhere,” Mark House said.

After some time, blown away from the amount of cases, they decided to establish themselves independently. Code3 formed in April of 2019, but they did not keep annual logs at the time—yet in 2020, the rescue transported around 168 animals, and so far in 2021, Code3 has transported around 121 animals.

Starting in late 2018, they became an unstoppable father-son duo, with Dylan, who has had a passion for flying since age 13, operating the skies, and Mark organizing the logistics mostly from the ground. He eliminates the “legwork” for rescues and shelters as a coordinator, and oversees the entire transportation process down to the details.

“We thought that we could just do so much more if we had our own organization, so we formed Code3 Animal Rescue Aviation Team,” Mark House said. They have also helped with an array of medical cases for animals in need, including cases involving prosthetics, vaccines and sterilization procedures.

Code3 contacts pilots and enlists their talents to complete the volunteer rescue work. They made friendships through their start with Pilots N Paws, then met others through meeting at airports or connecting with them naturally. The pilots get to fly and help out, all while their expenses are tax-deductible because of Code3 being a registered nonprofit organization.

“It’s nice for them, because these guys, when they get their pilot’s license, it’s around 40-50 hours, but then to fly commercially they have to have at least 1,500. That’s a whole lot of hours in between that they need so they can do this kind of stuff, help them build hours, help them save lives, it’s a win-win all the way around,” Mark House said. Those who choose to help are often like-minded individuals with a fondness for animals.

“A lot of guys, again, they’re doctors, lawyers, business owners, they have their own planes, they fly and this gives them a reason other than just go somewhere to lunch and come back, they can actually help a life,” he continued.

Raised in a family of animal lovers, especially his mother, Mark House went on to create the same kind of appreciation with his children: Dylan, 18, Brenden, 20, and Cory, 25.

“My mom didn’t have a whole lot growing up, so I watched others kind of help us, and then that just kind of trained me that someday, I’m gonna help others the way we were helped. Happy to be able to do it, fortunate to be able to do it, for sure,” Mark House said.

Inspired from his own childhood vacations and travels, Dylan House envisions a career in aviation. He’s flown kittens to their forever homes in Providence, Rhode Island, ground transports to Maryland, and many other journeys under the young pilot’s belt.

“My other hobbies, honestly, all include flying and animals. I’ve always wanted to fly since I was little,” Dylan House said. “I wouldn’t mind at all being a commercial pilot at some point.”

“We spend a lot of time together,” Mark House said of their bond. “We’ve always spent weekends together doing things, so this is just kind of an extension.”

His other sons are involved too, with all three of the brothers serving as board trustees who help out when they can. Cory House is currently an inactive member, and Brenden House is an active member on ground transports.

“It’s just one big family here at the airport, even though I don’t fly,” Mark House said. “It’s a lot of fun just being together.”

Mark House, of course, has “the boss,” the face of Code3’s logo, and ringleader, Bella, who helps Dylan complete pre-flight inspections, as well as Akira, who has an autoimmune skin disease. She was 12 hours from being put down until, with the help of another rescue called Husky House, she was flown from New Mexico to New Jersey.

Dylan owns Dakota, a dog he had “love at first sight” with when the animal peed on him, Princess, and DJ, a cat from a local groomer who owned spare kittens in need of a good home.

“When you hold them, they just look right into your eyes. It’s almost like they’re saying thank you, without saying anything,” Dylan House said. In the future, he is going to be Code3’s chief pilot.

They received attention in early August when a dog named Memphis was abandoned in Mississippi, paralyzed from a bullet to her spine and left for dead until local rescues came to her aid. (See sidebar.)

“There’s always one that seems to outdo the other, but because of her backstory, and how she lay there in the sweltering heat for three days on the side of the road, to this, to these pictures here of just love and hugs...It’s the happiest ending that you can ever imagine other than the ones we’ve adopted,” Mark said of Memphis’ journey.

Bella’s tale was so important to him because it somewhat mirrored the struggle the House family underwent with Akira.

The Covid-19 pandemic actually allowed for the nonprofit organization to take advantage of the free time pilots had to spare from staying home. In an era of uncertainty, Mark helped prioritize furry friends who might have been close to euthanasia in shelters or in cases of abuse.

Code3 is asked to provide transporting services on a weekly basis, and they can typically travel about 400 to 500 miles from the direct point of central New Jersey. In order to minimize the amount of time flying, their range of service generally ends around North Carolina, taking around four to five hours one-way, or less, in the air. They do utilize pilots in other areas to work out journeys outside of the usual scope as needed.

Now, as the economy readjusts and everyone returns to their normal occupations, it’s harder to schedule flights, and the duties trickle over into weekends like it did before 2020.

“There are so many animals [that] we could be flying every day of the week, and I could probably put as many planes as I have out there to actually help...There were a lot of adoptions in 2020, which was a great thing, [but] now they’re being surrendered again as people get on with their lives, which is pretty sad. So there’s a big need, and I think just growing the organization, one day we’ll hopefully have our own branded plane out there and everybody will know it,” Mark House said. “There’s a whole lot more animals I wish we could help, and I think that’s our goal, is to try to fly a whole lot more and help more animals.”

Events have been limited because of coronavirus cases, but the organization never paused their version of holiday festivities. Operation Santa, both in 2019 and 2020, allowed for people to bring their rescues for a joyous, fuzzy celebration. Mark House himself transforms into the wintry character. Notably, a dog named Charlotte was found on the streets of Trenton, where she suffered from parvo, a deadly, contagious virus that wrecked her body through serious illness which turned her horizontal. Along with Trenton Animal Shelter and Husky House, Code3 stepped in to help save her life.

“She got all better, she got adopted, and that’s her adopted family,” Mark showed a picture while glowing, “Then she saw Santa! So again, from a near-death experience in a shelter to a happy life and meeting Santa Claus.”

Besides bringing Christmastime cheer, they also partner with the Bag of Bones Barkery, a Hamilton pet shop who is “[their] biggest supporter” that helps by rounding up purchases, at the customer’s choice, to help local rescues. In the future, they would love to bring the educational aspect of the nonprofit to fruition through going into schools—a reality that did not happen due to the pandemic.

“We do have the ability to go into a school, or any kind of organization, and talk to kids, not only about flying, animals, taking care of your animals, just all around have fun,” Mark House said.

“Yeah, what kid doesn’t love a good puppy?” Dylan House laughed.

His father added, “We can bring samples!” with another chuckle.

To the House family, it is important to them to show anyone interested in helping can always participate beyond donations and volunteers.

“Do what you can to help animals from being in that position,” Dylan House said.

“Yes, do your part,” Mark House emphasized, “Don’t put the animals in that position, don’t surrender, animals are for life. Help out, and if you see animals in need, make a phone call or help any way you can.”

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