D'ja ever try to take two German shepherds flying in a four-seat retractable? It's nearly an impossible mission. Years ago, on a whim, I took my big 120-pound Siberian husky, Kenai, flying in the family Mooney. Though Kenai was in the habit of talking a lot on the ground, he was pretty quiet and laid back during his short flight. He stared out the window for a while with that same curious look he gets when I put him on the phone; then, apparently bored with it all, he yawned and went to sleep, overflowing the entire back seat in the process.
Kenai is long gone to the great doghouse in the sky, and these days, I sometimes fly with a pair of 100-pound German shepherds. One of them received his baptism to airplanes when I picked him up from the kennel as a three-month-old, 10-pound, black puff ball. I bought Terry from Oak Hills Kennels in Apple Valley, Calif., and flew him the 80 miles back from Hesperia to Long Beach via a borrowed Cessna 340. Terry traveled in style.
A few years ago, I picked up a two-month-old golden retriever in Carson City, Nev., in the same 340 and transported it down to Torrance to its new owners. I've also flown with greyhounds, Great Danes, Alaskan malamutes and Dobermans, and I've come to the conclusion that flying dogs is more fun than flying people. The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.
Perhaps the strangest pet flight I didn't make, however, had its roots in a delivery trip I made a half-dozen years ago through Honolulu for Australia in a Cessna 414. According to their chamber of commerce, the Hawaiian Islands are some of the most remote in the world and, for that reason, the state department of agriculture is charged with keeping bad bugs and animals off the island.
The Hawaiian agricultural folks take their job very seriously. Several years before, on a 12,000-nm delivery flight of a Piper Mirage from Sendai, Japan, to Dusseldorf, Germany, via Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, I came through Guam, flew to Majuro, Marshall Islands, and on to Hawaii. I was surprised when three customs and agriculture agents met me after landing at Honolulu International and went through the airplane in the most comprehensive inspection I'd seen. They had a dog sniff all over the airplane, removed some inspection plates and looked inside with a flashlight and did everything short of disassemble the airplane on the ramp.
They were nice guys, so I didn't object (not that it would have mattered). I assumed they were looking for fruit or drugs, but when they finished, one agent explained that no, in this case that wasn't their primary interest. Apparently, Guam had experienced an explosion in the population of a particularly nasty snake, and a few of the little devils had managed to sneak aboard airplanes headed off the island. Hawaii didn't want any new snakes.
Anyway, while refueling the 414 on the ramp at Honolulu during the mandatory butt-recovery day (hey, it's usually at least 12 to 13 hours from Santa Barbara to Honolulu), an older, well-dressed gentleman approached me, introduced himself and, speaking with a strong Southern accent, said he might have a proposition for me. He suggested we meet at his favorite restaurant that evening for dinner and he'd explain his proposal.
I met him on the beach at Waikiki at the appointed time, we sat down to sumptuous steak and lobster, and he asked if I'd be interested in flying his two Afghan hounds in from the mainland. At the time, Hawaii had very strict quarantine laws regarding incoming dogs. The animals were required to be kenneled for four months to make certain they had no diseases, then pass a physical and finally be allowed onto the island, all at owner expense. No matter what the cost, most dog owners felt these oppressive regulations were inhumane and would rather leave their dogs on the mainland or place them in other homes rather than subject them to four months in jail at the Honolulu Airport.
The gentleman was a long-since-retired military pilot who occasionally hung around the airport, and he knew that ferry airplanes arriving from the mainland were never inspected. Delivery flights could land pretty much anywhere in the islands without inspection, since they were regarded as little more than domestic flights, albeit very long ones (2,160 nm).
Before I could suggest that no good deed goes unpunished and there was no way I'd risk fines and possible license penalties for smuggling his dogs into Hawaii, he commented that money was not an object and asked me what kind of airplane he should buy for the transport of his dogs. Incredibly, the dog lover claimed he wanted me to find him the proper airplane, buy it for him, make the round trip and sell the airplane after his Afghans were safely delivered to Oahu.
Just for fun, I decided to humor him to see if he was kidding. He wasn't. He'd made his fortune in the oil business in Louisiana, owned most of Baton Rouge for reasons only he understood, plus he had a home in Honolulu. The two dogs lived on his estate in Louisiana, and though he still had business interests in Louisiana, he acknowledged now that his wife was gone, he was semi-retired and the primary reason he maintained the mainland address was for his dogs.
Whoever said you can't buy happiness obviously never owned a puppy, and the Southern gentleman was so sincere and obviously a very serious dog lover that I couldn't help but sympathize with his situation. Though he understood the state of Hawaii's goal of keeping the islands disease-free, he wasn't about to let his beloved Afghans sit in pens for four months. He was almost tearful in describing how much he missed his dogs.
I didn't have the heart to turn him down cold. Instead, I took the easy way out. I took his card and told him I'd call him when I returned home, knowing I never would. I've always wondered if the Southern gentleman succeeded in moving his beloved Afghans from Louisiana to Hawaii without subjecting them to the quarantine.
Last year, I saw a story on CNN videotaped at the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture's airport impound facility suggesting the onerous rules regarding pet quarantine in Hawaii had been modified to allow dogs on the island after a comprehensive physical and a more reasonable two- to three-day quarantine. For those of us who are sappy about dogs and cats, it's refreshing that veterinary science has finally progressed to the point where animals fly in from the mainland in five hours, then not have to spend three percent of their lives enduring a quarantine.