Momma Lab’s Christmas Miracle
By Diane Potter.
In a very rural area of Greenville, Mississippi where euthanasia is at a 90% rate, people had been trying to trap a yellow Labrador running in a pack of dogs in freezing temperatures with threats of hurricane force winds. Finally after nearly two weeks, under great weather challenges, they were able to trap ” Wednesday”. Once caught they waited for the only vet in town to examine her. At examination it was found that she was pregnant and heart worm positive.
In an effort to save her from euthanasia, she was put up in boarding temporarily while a group of local dog friendly rescuers threw out a net to friends looking for someone to save her. A friend of Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue (JBAR), nearly 1000 miles away in South Florida, reached out and JBAR immediately arranged for transport through a friend at Pilots n Paws.
At 7:30 am on Christmas morning, JBAR Adoption Counselor and Volunteer, Diane Potter along with Art Dreyer from Pilots N Paws, took flight from a small private airport in a four seat Piper Arrow and headed for Greenville, Mississippi to rescue “Wednesday” from sure death either by freezing temperatures or the deadly needle. Little did We know that the planned 8 hour round trip would end up taking nearly 15 hours. Shortly after take off and even before leveling off the plane Art noticed that the gyro pump gauge indicated a ‘failure’ which meant that the directional gyro and artificial horizon which feed the auto pilot would not be working. “He assured me that he could fly the plane with back up instruments but that the failure would make night flying more difficult and he would need a lot more “concentration”.
I’ve flown with him many times and he is a very confident and cautious pilot, but he seemed pretty up tight and was continuously checking every gauge in front of us. Art also told me that he had picked his plane up that morning after having a small oil leak repaired. As we sped along at about 165 miles per hour headed for Greenville, we talked about our rescue for Christmas Day, both saying we felt like it was the best gift we could give…………saving a pregnant labrador and a basket full of puppies! We talked about politics, husbands, wives, kids, jobs, etc. and everything seemed to be going pretty good. As we came in for landing on a ‘very’ rural runway in Greenville, Miss. the temperatures had dropped from a balmy 82 in Florida to 35 degrees under sunny skies and a brisk but stinging wind.
At first it seemed like no one was around as we departed the plane and stood there looking at nothing but a couple of old tractors, fuel tanks for farm equipment, and a fence surrounding the area. Then a tiny red car approached the plane, and we saw our cargo inside staring out at us. One yellow Lab, very pregnant, and one beautiful chocolate 4 month old Lab with bright green eyes. The transporter helped us transfer the dogs to the cargo area of the plane (where the seats were taken out to make room). We waited for 20 minutes for another transporter who was suppose to deliver a new mom with her seven pups, but she lost communication and never showed.
Knowing Art was nervous about flying in the dark, we didn’t waste much time before speeding down the runway in the middle of an empty corn field to head for home as the sun was fast sinking in the west. We weren’t in the air more than 20 minutes when Art said he wanted to put the plane down to check the oil, as the gauge was showing low pressure. He located another small airport and we landed at a place called Philadelphia, Mississippi. At the tiny airport there was a sign on the door that said ‘closed for Christmas. For emergency call ……….#”. Sure enough, in about 20 minutes a man showed up in a black pick up, opened up the gas pumps, brought out three quarts of oil, then charged us $35, discounted from $50 as a Christmas gesture for the call-out……..and he had us on the way.
The sun was sinking fast, and we began hitting a headwind that felt like we had a parachute attached to our tail. No matter what altitude we climbed to from 4000, to 6000, then 8500 feet the plane wouldn’t go more than 119 miles an hour and we were burning fuel fast. Now in the darkness of the cockpit, Art was really starting to check the gauges over and over and even changed the battery in a tiny red flashlight so he could make sure the readings were sufficient. He asked me to keep a watch on the horizon and the flickering city lights below. Then for a minute or two we encountered some clouds and we couldn’t see the ground and he grew more tense.
He kept trying to reassure me that all was well. We hugged the ledge of the shore line between the Pan handle of Florida and across to Tampa so we could see land lights and he kept the plane climbing higher and higher. Next we had to make a decision if we had enough fuel to make it all the way home or if we should make our fifth fuel stop in Okeechobee before crossing the lake! He kept calculating fuel reserves and time to home. As head winds kept blowing, he continued to refigure. Forty minutes before home, he decided it was best to stop as landing with the required reserves was no longer a sure thing. GOOD MOVE, I was all for it.
With only 35 minutes flying time left, we jumped out of the plane in front of the fuel pumps, hauling the dogs behind us so they could relieve themselves. We’d been flying for almost eight hours on our return flight so everyone needed to get out. We quickly called our spouses and our transporters waiting in Lantana to assure them we were alright, just running eight hours late. Everyone sounded very relieved to hear from us. With the plane refueled and everyone feeling a lot lighter, we took off for our last leg home. Art was flicking some other button that makes the lights on the landing strip go on so you can see your runway. At last, there were the lights right there waiting for us……… transporters wearily waiting, dogs wanting to put their paws on land………….and us too.
“We speed down the runway on take off at 7:30 AM Christmas morning and landed that night at 10:30 PM with one pregnant mommy dog and a 4 month old puppy……..who will all get great ‘forever homes’. It was one heck of a day.
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