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Dogs with wings

Who can resist the big brown, pleading eyes of a canine? For pilots who are animal lovers, it just takes a puppy’s innocent look or the knowledge that an abandoned pet will be euthanized to get them in the air for a quick rescue flight.

Michele McGuire, of Westminster, Md., devotes her free time, piloting skills, and Cessna 172 to unite dogs with their adoptive owners through flights arranged by Pilots N Paws and ARF (Animal Rescue Flights).

“It gets me up flying. Without a specific purpose, I’d probably sit around the house,” she said, explaining that she flew only 20 hours a year before she started participating in rescue flights. With avgas prices running $5 to $6 a gallon, connecting pleasure flights with a good cause can help to justify the expense of flying. Helping animals was the perfect cause for McGuire, who has devoted her business, Mutt Muffs, to dogs and aviation.

Now the instrument-rated private pilot has more than 350 hours “and growing fast.” She just added to her flight time on Oct. 4 and 5 with two animal rescue flights, one for a Great Dane and one for two boxers. (See a slide show of her flight to transport the boxers.)

“Sunday, we helped with a wonderfully sweet 10-year-old Great Dane, who was a bag of bones. That poor thing, you could see her ribs, backbone, and hipbones. But she was a sweetie,” McGuire wrote in an update to AOPA. “She started in Alabama where a rescue pulled her before the scheduled euthanization. We flew a leg that helped get her to her permanent adoptive home in Massachusetts.”

She’s also delivered two boxers from State College to Reading, Pa.; 16 puppies from Lancaster, Ohio, to Lancaster, Pa.; and three mother dogs from a puppy mill in Lancaster, Ohio, to Salisbury, Md.

Transporting animals by air rather than ground can be easier on the animals, explained one pilot on AOPA’s online forum. The pilot has flown 55 hours on rescue missions in the past three months.

“There are rescue organizations who will save these animals, many of which are permanently adopted. When the new permanent home is many miles away, ground transports are arranged...usually they are multiple leg routes with volunteers driving 50- to 70-mile legs, and then transferring the animal(s) to the next volunteer’s car.

“A 400-mile trip may involve a schedule that entails eight volunteers driving eight legs, transferring animals eight times to a different car. It is stressful for the volunteers who drive to a rigid schedule and to the animals that are constantly being handled.”

During transport flights, the animals are typically restrained, McGuire said. She’s hauled puppies in a crate and secured medium-sized dogs in the baggage area of her Cessna 172. And so far, her four-legged passengers have been well behaved.

February 10, 2009

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