16 Puppies, 1200nm, 20 hours
From Huey O’Neil: At eight o’clock eastern standard time, the wheels of six two four one bravo left Lantana Airport’s runway three three with one mission on its itinerary, to save sixteen dogs and puppies. That moment was the beginning of a twenty-hour journey that would lead Daniel Diamond, my instructor, and me on a journey that will never be forgotten.
Our first stop was Alma, GA (KAMG). After about two and a half hours, we landed at Alma. We swiftly refueled and departed for Fulton County (KFTY). After landing at Fulton County, we made our way to meet our first passenger, Bond. Bond cheerfully hopped into the two rear seats and made himself at home. He was unaware that at our next stop we would be picking up ten more puppies and dogs, and that his spacious area to relax would soon be constrained to just one seat. En route to Jasper, AL, we were surfing an overcast layer of clouds. Bond seemed to enjoy looking out of the window during this leg.
A short hour and nine minutes later, we touched down at Jasper. Bond jumped out to do his ‘business,’ and stood by politely as we loaded up 10 more puppies and dogs. It took some time as we rearranged all of the cages in an attempt to ergonomically fit it all with space for our next flight’s travelers. These passengers consisted of: six puppies, one Rottweiler, one Dachshund, one Chihuahua, and the Dachshund and Chihuahua’s two puppies. The plane was loaded down and after topping off we were off to our next stop of Bainbridge, GA to pick up more puppies. ATC gave us direct destination soon after takeoff. We encountered some weather as we crossed state lines back into Georgia, however, out flight path put us “in the only gap within 75 miles,” according to the controller. We combated moderate turbulence, however, all of the dogs didn’t appear to mind. Bainbridge’s weather was a mildly low ceiling with light winds. We elected to do the ILS approach as a precaution. After landing, we taxied to our waiting puppies.
The definition of challenging is elevated to a new level when you are attempting to fit five dogs and puppies into an already full plane. I sat in the back for this leg, as we would have to drop one puppy off the itinerary if I hadn’t. This meant Bond got the front seat, and one of the puppies got to sit (in a cage) by the rudder pedals. It was an intriguing experience with all of the puppies to watch in the back. We had one on top of the cage next to me, one on top of the cage behind me, and one on my lap. This stop’s passengers consisted of: one pit bull puppy, one weimaraner puppy, two lab-retriever mix puppies, and Red, another dog.
Throughout the flight all of the puppies were playing around in their lively spirits. That opened my eyes to how bright their future will be because of what the people on the ground are doing. They are finding forever homes for these dogs to be with families for the rest of their lives. Before I knew it were on approach to Tampa Executive Airport. All of the dogs’ fosters, families, rescues were waiting there to pick up their special dog(s). We pulled up and began the process of matching owner with dog. It was enjoyable to see that they were leaving in good hands. We had some extra time with some of the Bainbridge puppies as we had arrived ahead of schedule. They had a lot of fun playing with each other in the cockpit. The twenty hours that we spent on this spectacular mission was definitely rewarding and a marvelous occasion.
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