Flying Journal - Flying in Planes with Dogs
When I started writing this, I was sitting in an exam room late one Sunday evening at the Emer-gency Veterinary
Hospital with my 16-year-old Shetland Sheepdog, Ami. ("friend" in French, but we pronounce it "Amy").
Animal names get really funny. Just check the racehorses. Three of our dogs have "Sunshine" in their
official full names, in honor of the bike shop I owned at the time. Ami was one of our dogs who greeted our customers
at Sunshine Cycles and Fitness for nearly 10 years.
I brought her to the vet to check her lungs. She was recovering from anesthesia (risky for old dogs) and it sounded like maybe she was getting some fluid. As I waited for the doctor, I reminded myself that Ami would be over a hundred converted to "dog years"! I have heard of a few Shelties living to 18 or 19. As sick as she sounded, it hardly seemed she would live 2 or 3 more days, much less 2 or 3 years.
We have an assortment of younger dogs, but Ami will always be special to me. She was my first obedience dog, and my first agility dog (another dog sport, involving timed runs through obstacle cour-ses). In her prime, she had even shown the ability to herd livestock, retaining some herding instinct from her Scottish ancestors.
I realized that in a way, Ami's life was passing before MY eyes. Which is a very roundabout way to get to aviation. As Ami lay wheezing in my arms, highlights of her life passing through my memory, I remembered that we had taken her flying a few times. She used to love to hop up in the back window of the sedan we drove at the time to enjoy the scenery. It would be hard to tell what she thought of flying, but she seemed to like it, certainly seemed interested, maybe even a little perplexed. Like many humans, the sensations of 3-D motion, broken free from the fixed plane of the earth, seemed to concern her.
Later, after more experienced dog people convinced us of the dangers to animals loose in a vehicle if there should be an accident (if nothing else, they can be lost, stolen, or run over if their owner is unconscious after an accident), we began using airline crates to protect the dogs while traveling.
As Dianne got increasingly serious in her dog training, she researched the bloodlines and picked a new puppy from a breeder near Atlanta. I had just recently earned my instrument rating. We rented a Cherokee 180 to fly down to look at "Ruffy." We liked him and brought him home with us, safely protected in his crate. But that flight was memorable in another way, too.
On that flight, my first as a new instrument pilot, with my first non-instructor passengers, the vacuum pump quit! Fortunately we were not in IMC at the time, but it made a believer out of me. I do not consider a candidate ready for an instrument check-ride unless they are very proficient on partial-panel work. If I can help it, none of my students will end up like the hapless pilots in recent celebrity plane crashes. You know the ones I am talking about.
That flight continued without further incident. From time to time we would have occasion to fly with one or more dogs. As always in an airplane, space gets to be a problem. We used to joke about getting an Aztec and building in dog crates. I am concerned about possible damage to the animals' hearing in loud aircraft, but I have heard of several dogs that have flown with their owners for years with no apparent ill effects. I know I have seen a few at Oshkosh that seemed to live in airplanes.
I only got in trouble with dogs and airplanes twice. I once volunteered to assist a woman in our dog training club who had trained her dog in search and rescue. She was on a FEMA Search and Rescue team and if activated, she had to be able to transport herself, her gear, and her dog to her team's staging area in Lincoln, Nebraska, within SIX hours. Obviously, an airplane was the only way to go.
We thought we should try it out to see if the dog would tolerate it. The flight went fine, but I was embarrassed to discover that the gentleman who had been kindly renting me his nice late-model airplane found dog-hair on the seats and dog-slobber on the windows. Sadly, that was the beginning of the end for that arrangement.
The other time I got in trouble with a dog and an airplane, the dog almost brought the plane down! Well, it probably wasn't really that close, but it seemed like it at the time, and this wasn't just hitting a flying duck with a bicycle. There used to be a big dog, maybe a Golden Retriever, that lived out at Flying Bar H airport east of Springfield. I had petted him before when on the ground. One day I was giving a friend a ride in the old Aeronca Champ. I had seen the dog run alongside planes before, sometimes uneasily close, but this time, during our take-off roll, he ran across right in front of us. I braced myself for impact, but it never happened. I don't suppose it was really that close, but I would have sworn that he ran full-speed right between the propeller arc and the landing gear. As we lifted off, I saw him loping joyously behind us as happy to be alive and chasing as we were to be alive and flying.
Later, a pilot hangared at that field told me the trick to keep the dog away. He kept an old racket and a few old tennis balls in his plane. Just before he started his take-off roll, he'd whack a ball the other way for the dog to chase. Well, whatever it takes, we must fly safely! Oh, and Ami has recovered from immediate danger and is back to her grumpy old self. Live with on old female dog and you'll really understand that five-letter world starting with "B!"
Enjoy your pets and planes-er, pet planes? Well, whatever! Fly safely,
[Copyright 2002 - Earl Holmer]