The Joy of Flight: Flying dogs

March 25, 2013

The Joy of Flight: Flying dogs

Erin and Paul Fink
Fred with owner

It was a long journey — about 430 miles — for Fred the basset hound. With his snout leading the way, the four-legged canine moseyed away from home in Riverside, California, all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona, last December.

No one knows why for sure. But it was a quick trip back home for Fred six months later on board a Mooney M20E.

Fred was found in the parking lot of the Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff. Employees at the shelter discovered a microchip in Fred registered to Riverside County Animal Control. It included an address.

Paul Fink, a veterinarian since 1975, and his wife Erin, a retired teacher, have been pilots for more than 30 years and continue to fly for just about any reason. When they turned 50, they bought the Mooney and named it Madeline because their first trip was to Madeline Island, one of Wisconsin's Apostle Islands.

Since Paul has been working at the Second Chance Center for Animals, the couple has offered to fly animals home when needed on a volunteer basis through their organization VetAir. Often, Erin said, people can't afford to move their animals or neglect to make arrangements to have their pet transported during a move. Occasionally, a pet needs medical attention and cannot be moved without proper care. The alternative then is to leave them at the shelter.

That's where the Finks have been helpful by reuniting owners with their pets.

"Paul can attend to sick animals also," said Erin, who flies from the left seat so Paul can watch the animal while in the right seat in case they need assistance.

"If you have to stop, what do you do with the animal?" said Erin, adding that the average animal can be flown for eight hours and "that's pushing it," considering the size of the animal, fuel stops, and the inevitable potty call.

Where they fly depends on where the pet owner resides — mostly in the Southwest area so far — and which airport provides the best landing spot. A majority of the their trips take one day depending on the animal and its condition.

As far as Fred's condition is concerned, he was in good shape. Details are sketchy about how he ended up in Arizona, but he was happily reunited with his completely surprised and rightful owner back in California.

"We do it for the rewards of flying and making the pets and owners happy," said Erin. — Kate Opalewski

Posted Wednesday, June 20, 2007