Going to the dogs

March 1, 2001

My Super Bowl Sunday literally went to the dogs. The plan was to veg out in front of the tube to watch the local favorite Baltimore Ravens take on the New York Giants. As we all know now, it wasn't much of a contest.

Instead I found myself on a mission, plowing into a 25-knot headwind over West Virginia, slowly descending and climbing with the mountain waves. They don't call it the Mountain State for nothing. The GPS knew exactly where it was going, giving precise guidance to Braxton County Airport in Sutton, West Virginia. Me, well, I wasn't sure what I was getting into. More than once, I thought, "What are you doing out here? Turn around and go home."

The roots of this winged rescue mission actually started a year ago this St. Patrick's Day, when our favorite four-legged family member, Chelsey, a collie-shepherd mix, died a few weeks short of her sixteenth birthday. It wasn't a surprise, but we were heartbroken nonetheless and swore off dogs. Our thinking at the time: We can now jump in the airplane most any weekend and go off to fun and exotic places without having to worry about pet sitters. Well, guess what, we didn't travel any more than we did the year before.

Soon the kids began pestering for a dog, and I had to admit I missed being met at the door every night with the level of enthusiasm only a loving canine can muster. The family ganged up on me; I caved in quickly. The search was on.

Fifteen years ago, we went to the animal shelter, found a dog that looked friendly, and brought her home — worked great. Now we have the Internet, which seems to have complicated rather than simplified our lives. I dug through site after site on dogs. I've always liked boxers — they're big and friendly and great with kids. They don't bark much, which I thought might somehow balance out the yapping schnauzer that lives behind us. Maybe a big boxer would terrorize her into silence.

The Northeastern Boxer Rescue Web site showed a number of boxers available for adoption. Some were abandoned or strays. Others were in foster homes because their owners could no longer care for them or had moved. Each boxer had a bio and most had photos. Many of the dogs were in foster homes in New England. We wouldn't have considered a dog that far away, except we knew that we could get there easily in the airplane.

After a couple of weeks of searching, we spotted Kallee, who looked like a good candidate — almost three years old, which was fine by us since we didn't relish the idea of dealing with puppyhood. The adoption process is thorough and involves a very long application and a home visit. I doubt adopting a child is much more intensive.

Finally we were approved. Next issue: Kallee was in New Hampshire. We're in Maryland. An eight-hour drive, or two hours in the airplane. It didn't take us long to decide.

The Beech A36 Bonanza is an accommodating airplane. Nonetheless, I was convinced that the crate we needed to handle a 63-pound dog would not fit in the back. I was wrong. Take out the two aft seats and you can stuff in a lot of dog. I took some measurements and the crate would just fit.

So on a Friday in late January we launched for Keene, New Hampshire, to meet — and, hopefully, bring home — our new pet. Bonnie, Kallee's foster mother and a volunteer with the Boxer Rescue organization, met us at the airport. We spent a little time getting to know Kallee and soon realized what a terrific personality she has. She was instantly comfortable with our two girls and just a bit wary of my wife and me.

We finished the adoption paperwork, and then came the interesting part: How to get her into the crate for the journey home.

The crate fit into the airplane, but once in place, the crate's door could not be opened. So the trick was to coax the nervous dog into the crate on the ramp and then lift her and the crate into the airplane. She went into the crate without too much fuss, although it was obvious she didn't want to leave foster mom Bonnie. But managing Kallee's 63 pounds plus the weight of the crate and easing it carefully into the airplane was more of an ordeal. It took a couple of tries and a scraped knuckle on my part, but we succeeded. The girls scrambled into the aft-facing seats to keep her company. With that finally done, we were set to leave.

I've never flown with a dog before and wasn't sure what to expect. Kallee whimpered and woofed a couple of times as we taxied, but she grew quiet as we barreled down the runway for takeoff. In the climb, she lay down and went to sleep. She was silent and relaxed the whole way home.

We were expecting a quiet weekend at home to help Kallee settle in. She inspected every corner of the house, chased the cat, and stared down the schnauzer through the fence. Kallee is definitely the strong, silent type who has little time for the yapper.

But on Sunday, another canine caper began. An urgent e-mail and then a phone call to Bonnie told of a boxer puppy found abandoned along a desolate road in the middle of West Virginia. The pup, Red, needed to be moved to a foster home right away. Did I know anyone who could fly over and get him? Well, I'm not so dense as to miss a hint like that.

Robert, the kind soul who found Red, lives in Bogs. I quickly fired up my map software and found that Bogs is truly a long ways from about anyplace. Robert agreed to drive as far as Sutton, if necessary, to get Red to a better home. Next step, find an airport near Bogs or Sutton. Using AOPA's Airport Directory Online, I found that Braxton County Airport is just outside Sutton. The site has a search feature that will locate all airports within a radius of a particular airport. A search of the area around Braxton County didn't turn up any airports closer to Bogs.

I called up my friend Tom Linton, an inactive pilot who's always up for an aviation adventure. With 15 minutes' notice, he was ready to go, so we launched for Braxton County. Flight service's forecast for moderate turbulence proved to be wrong. Aside from the mountain waves, the air was smooth, despite the strong winds at altitude. With clear skies and unrestricted visibility, it was a beautiful afternoon for flying.

Just over an hour after leaving home, we spotted Braxton County's single runway tucked into a valley. Robert was there waiting with a wiggling and anxious Red. I could tell instantly that Red was no boxer, but I also knew that the Boxer Rescue group didn't care. Robert gave Red a final rub of the ears, and with a tear in his eye handed the pup over. "A lot of people told me to just take him out back and shoot him, but I couldn't do that," he said. "He deserves a good home."

Minutes later we were eastbound enjoying a nice tailwind with North Philadelphia Airport set into the GPS. We touched down right on schedule and were met by volunteers from Boxer Rescue, who would keep Red until he could finish his journey to New Hampshire, where a home had already been found.

We took off for home just after dusk. It was one of those incredibly smooth nights where you almost feel suspended in space. If it weren't for the lights of Philadelphia and Baltimore scrolling by below, we might have convinced ourselves that we weren't moving at all. Neither of us minded much when a controller mentioned that the Super Bowl was under way. We had accomplished something much more important than watching a football game.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.

Topics GPS, Avionics