WORLD’S BEST FLYING BUDDY. Bill Cox recently said “good-bye” to his favorite copilot, Terry (above). He encourages pilots to give back to man’s best friend through groups such as Pilots N Paws.
Like many of you, I’ve owned dogs for as long as I can remember, probably longer. My first memories of Washington, D.C., in the late ’40s included a lovable mutt named Buddy (sorry), an unlikely combination of beagle and husky, I think.
There’ve been about a dozen best friends since then, and except for my college years and a stint in the army during Vietnam, I’ve owned a nearly continuous succession of dogs.
Better still, dogs have been my copilots for as long as I’ve been licensed to fly—44 years. A malamute, a Dobie, four German shepherds, two Siberian huskies and a Heinz 57 have flown with me in everything from a Globe Swift and two Bellanca Cruisemasters to a Mooney 231, a Seneca II and my current LoPresti Mooney.
Not all took to flying with equal enthusiasm, but most regarded aviation as something between sheer boredom worthy of a good nap and total barking enthusiasm. (“Mooney 65V, say again. Sounded like there was barking in the background.”)
I just lost one of the best flying dogs that ever lived. Terry was 13 years old, barely a teenager in human years, but a senior citizen for a German shepherd. It’s one of God’s cruel jokes that most dogs don’t live even a fourth as long as the majority of humans.
Symptomatic of the breed, old Terry was laced with a variety of geriatric ailments. Born an original solid black, some of his coat had turned to gray, and he was partially blind and deaf. He was occasionally incontinent (to his obvious embarrassment), and his severe arthritis made even getting to his feet painful. Accordingly, he hadn’t been flying for a while. At the equivalent of 91 human years, walking was a struggle for Terry, and it was tough for him to climb in and out of the car, much less jump up onto the Mooney’s wing and into the back seat.
One recent morning, Terry, the world’s best flying buddy from age eight weeks to 13 years, began to blow up like a balloon. He was experiencing the dreaded GDV (gastric dilitation-volvulus), better known as “bloat,” a common problem with older, big breed, male dogs, and nearly always fatal. He died before he could even reach the hospital.
If you’re a dog person, you understand the grief that comes from losing a wonderful dog, and if you’re not, you never will, and that’s okay too. For me, however, losing my best-ever four-footed copilot was like losing an arm, and I don’t have nearly enough years left to ever stop missing him. I have another German shepherd, a beautiful, solid-white female named Cirrus, but she’ll never replace Terry.
For that reason, it was with special interest that I spotted a booth at Oshkosh called Pilots N Paws. As the name implies, Pilots N Paws was created specifically to help relocate dogs by airplane.
We’re not talking airlines here. Pet Airways launched its service a few months ago, flying animals in the main cabin of a Beech 1900 airliner from New York to Baltimore/Washington, Chicago, Denver and finally L.A., and returning on the same route the following day.
Pilots N Paws is directed at pets that need a new home and have no one to pay for their relocation. Several years ago, I was involved with a group of dog people in Los Angeles who transported retired racing greyhounds from the racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, to new homes in the United States. After nursing the animals back to health, the Southern California Greyhound Adoption Legion (www.socalgal.org) placed dogs in homes all over the West, and therein lies the rub: Dog transport around California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico was putting 100,000 miles a year on their van. Then, a young couple in the swimming-pool business in Thermal, Calif., Pat and Carol Cattarin, volunteered their Cessna 421 to fly the greyhounds around the Southwest in style.
I did a story on the Cattarins’ canine transport service a few years back for Plane & Pilot’s sister publication, Pilot Journal. Pilots N Paws is slightly different in that it deals in all types of dogs, from Afghan hounds to Yorkshire terriers, and it flies them to destinations all over the States.
Pilots N Paws is the collective brainchild of Debi and Bob Boies and Jon Wehrenberg of Landrum, S.C. The Boies family was adopting a Doberman from Tallahassee, Fla., and Wehrenberg volunteered his airplane to pick up the animal and transport it north.
From that experience, the group launched Pilots N Paws, a transportation service designed specifically to move rescue animals from one place to another by private aircraft. Nearly five million dogs are euthanized every year because shelters in some of the more populous areas simply can’t handle the overpopulation of animals. Pilots N Paws serves as a clearinghouse to bring together animals that need to be relocated and pilots willing to help alleviate the problem.
Wehrenberg, pilot of that first Pilots N Paws mission, says the goal is simply to keep animals alive: “Pilots’ involvement can help save thousands of animals from euthanasia.” Because the service is strictly voluntary and hinges on people using the website to coordinate pickup and delivery of animals, Pilots N Paws has no way of knowing exactly how many pets have been saved, but anecdotal information suggests that more than 1,000 dogs, cats and other animals have received free rides to new homes in parts of the United States where adoptions are more readily available. Pilots N Paws is a 501(c)(3) organization, so reasonable flying expenses are tax-deductible.
So far, Pilots N Paws has recruited some 370 pilots and 2,000 members on its website. Pilots fly everything from King Airs and 340s to SR22s and 172s on mercy missions. Dogs and cats aren’t the only passengers, either. A recent flight transported three snakes and a monster lizard from southern Florida to points north. Another flight moved a potbellied pig and a baby chick across country.
Though the service was initiated in the Southeast, more and more rescues are taking place in other parts of the country. I’ve signed up with Pilots N Paws (www.pilotsnpaws.org) in Southern California, despite the fact that my Mooney isn’t ideally suited to carry anything much larger than a cocker spaniel in a crate. Once, a dozen years ago, before I had the new leather interior installed, I did load both German shepherds into the back seat at the same time. Things were crowded, but it was worth a trip around the pattern.
That’s not to suggest you have to fly a large airplane to help Pilots N Paws move rescue animals around the nation. A 152 or a Super Cub could be pressed into service to move a small dog or cat several hundred miles to a better location where adoption service is friendlier.
There’s nothing clichéd about the suggestion that dogs are man’s best friend, and Pilots N Paws is a way for those of us granted the gift of flight to give back.
Bill Cox is in his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot. He provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide. E-mail him at [email protected].