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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

Going to the Dogs

A couple of months ago I had never heard of Wings of Rescue.  Since then, I have flown two missions for them.  There are some significant challenges to the process.

Wings of Rescue is an organization that takes dogs that have reached the end of their free stay at dog pounds, finds homes for them (not local) and transports them to their new owners.  In some cases it’s just another pound that doesn’t have a death sentence at the end of the free room and board.

My first load of dogs consisted of a solo flight in a Pilatus (with all the seats removed) and 49 dogs.  Good news, they were all in dog carriers.  Bad news, there were 49 dogs in a single plane. 

So, let’s start with the basic issues:

1.  How would you rate the chances that each dog carrier had been weighed?  And you’d be right, I had to weigh each one, total them up, and figure weight and balance, when they weren’t exactly at any particular station on the W&B chart.  I love Excel spreadsheets!

2.  What are the chances they will all fit in the cargo area of the PC-12?  Zero, of course – that’s why we pulled all the seats.  And that means there has to be some way to secure the crates (which at this point are stacked two high in the case of those holding Huskies and Shepherds, and up to five high in the case of Chihuahuas).  Fortuitously, the Pilatus has floor- and wall-mounted strap anchors for this very purpose.  Though I doubt Pilatus actually PLANNED to have their plane act as an airborne kennel.

3.  How many dogs enjoy being packed into carriers and taken for a ride?  For most of them, the termination of various rides is a variety of shots, and an occasional knife.  So these dogs aren’t completely happy, and many are vocal about it.  Even though their futures are far better, and far longer than they would have been, they seem not to understand it.

4.  Aside from the noise, what do dogs do when they are nervous and scared?  I won’t even start that conversation, but there ARE pads in each carrier.  As if that were really effective.

The flight plan on the first trip was Hayward to Riverside to pick up the dogs, and pose for pix and publicity, followed by a flight to Salem, Oregon to drop off about 2/3 of the dogs, then Olympia, Washington to drop the rest, and then empty back to Hayward.  The carefully planned schedule happened nothing like the plan.  Of course you expect that in aviation, but this took it to a whole new level.  The process of loading dogs and carriers takes a LOT longer than planned – like nearly an hour longer.

Once the yapping, howling, and barking horde was all aboard, the doors closed and the engine started, the fun began.  It was a very turbulent day in SoCal, and the dogs didn’t appreciate the bumping and bouncing, and voiced their displeasure.  I have no idea what the ATC folks thought as I made the various calls during the climb-out, but it was NOISY in the cockpit.  Even with the ANR headset.  Good news, when the cabin altitude got up to about 8,000 ft, all the dogs went to sleep – it’s hard to be really active at that altitude and not get tired.  Bad news, they all woke up and started commenting on the flight conditions as we encountered turbulence during the ILS approach into Salem.  It probably didn’t occur to any of them that I was busy and could have used some peace and quiet.  I wonder if an FAA examiner would consider that to be a “realistic distraction”.

The next surprise was that when the Salem dogs were taken from the plane, the folks on the ground emptied the carriers and put them back on the plane (with the smelly pads still in the carriers).  They disassembled the carriers, so the weight and volume were both reduced, and the noise factor was down a bit with the smaller number of dogs, but I still got to smell the dogs, so in one sense they were still with me.

The same game on the trip to Olympia, followed by a very peaceful trip home.

When I got home and opened my car door, every cat within a mile disappeared.  Didn’t see a single cat for nearly a week.

Unbelievably, I volunteered for another one of those trips last week.  Hayward to Van Nuys, Bakersfield, Coeur D’alene, Helena, and home – a LONG day.  But on this one, I had a co-pilot and a rep from Wings of Rescue.  Those dogs are CUTE.  There was this chocolate Lab puppy…