Plane & Pilot
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Ferry Dogs


Animal lovers go to great lengths to keep their beloved pets happy


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.




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