IFR conditions on Saturday kept the small number of VFR pilots who made it to South Carolina from participating in the airlift. But the IFR pilots stepped up and loaded their airplanes with more than 100 dogs. One of these was a spectacular polished Piper Lance based at Lakeland, Fla., whose tail is emblazed with the words Puppy Express.
With that many paws on the ground, you’d think there would be a cacophony of barking and a lot of messes to be mopped up. But from my perspective, the volunteers seemed to have their four-footed charges well in hand.
Pilots and helpers played a game of Tetris (thanks, Alyssa Miller, for giving me that image) as they loaded dogs–some in crates, some not–into baggage areas, back seats, and passenger laps. (In case you’re wondering, these pilots do prepare for accidents by laying down plastic sheets and tarps.) Doug Manual, who flew a Cessna 182 down from Leesburg Airport, told me he carried seven dogs: two in a crate, four in the cargo compartment, and one who rode in his wife Tammy’s lap. Mike Young, who coordinated the pilots flying from Florence to Warrenton, was the last pilot out on Saturday. He ended up “only” carrying four dogs in his Lancair. He usually takes more.
There were tears shed as foster “parents” turned over their dogs to the pilots. The fosters craned their heads and took photos as the airplanes lifted off and disappeared into the 500-foot ceiling. One foster mom of Chihuahuas and Yorkies told me she was sending six dogs to new homes–she’ll still have 16 to care for.
Pilots don’t need an excuse to fly, but a mission–whether you’re in search of the perfect $100 hamburger, or you’re introducing someone new to the excitement of flying, or you’d like to make a difference in an animal’s life–is always a great thing to have.