Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

There’s A New Bear In Town

Man’s best friend can be man’s best copilot

I'm certain he'll make a wonderful addition to the flight crew, Peggy in the left seat, me in the right and Kenai howling enthusiasm from the back. Like most Siberians (the canine variety), he's naturally inquisitive, doesn't seem to scare easily and seems to thrive on new experiences.

I've seen this before—dogs that are more excited about flying than most people. They greet the opportunity to get their paws off the ground as just another adventure. I even had one that used to grade my landings with a loud "woof" for anything less than a greaser. Everyone's a critic.

In fact, I'll probably be seeing many more aviating dogs in the near future. I talked to the folks at Pilots N Paws during the recent AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, and I'm now on their list as a volunteer to help them relocate dogs and cats around the country.

I wrote about Pilots N Paws back in 2008, so I won't reiterate the story here, but it's certainly one of the most worthwhile charities for animal lovers who fly their own aircraft. Pilots volunteer their services and operating expenses of their airplanes to transport animals from where they are to where they need to be, sometimes to new adoptive owners, but more often from high-kill shelters, usually located in high-volume urban locations to low- or no-kill shelters, often in the suburbs.

By using a series of volunteer aircraft and pilots, over 3,000 at last count, each flying relatively short legs of 300 to 600 miles, the service can move animals across the United States. It's a great opportunity for what used to be a pilot's Sunday hamburger flight to have meaning and actually serve a worthwhile purpose rather than simply burning fuel for fun.

You don't need to own a Seneca, 36 Bonanza or other six-seat machine with copious cargo space to participate in the program, either. Some of the dogs or cats you might be asked to transport may be no larger than a raccoon. Even if you fly a Cessna 150, Ercoupe or J-3 Cub, you could help save an animal that might otherwise be euthanized. If you're interested, the website is

As mentioned above, dogs can be great buddies during flights for business or pleasure. My friend, John Kounis, editor of Pilot Getaways magazine, is one of the many who makes practically every flight with four paws in back. He flies his Cessna 185 all over North America in search of travel stories for his vacation-oriented aviation magazine. I've flown air-to-air in a variety of airplanes on John's Cessna a dozen or so times, and I've nearly always spotted John's yellow labrador retriever, Woody, in the airplane, even when a door was removed and John's brother, George, was shooting photos of me orbiting over Death Valley, Sedona, Ariz., or Monument Valley, Utah. Flying with a special restraint harness, Woody was happy to be with his humans and seemed to love to fly. (Woody died recently, and a new yellow lab, Radar, is now the Kounis family's resident air-to-air photographer's helper dog.)

As soon as Kenai Bear becomes more accustomed to his new environment (and the tough Orvis rear-seat cover arrives to protect the leather on the Mooney's aft seats), I'll be launching with him aboard to help grade my landings. I'm hoping for consistent five bark ratings.

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