Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Human Chain: How Dougall Got His Wings

Witness Protection

Maggie and Dougall

In the weeks after my mother passed away, I found myself wondering about her beloved dogs. How were they faring since the Colonel Potter Cairn Rescue Network whisked them away to new homes? I reached out to contacts at the the rescue and learned a few details. First, it appears that being rescued is tantamount to entering a witness protection program. All four dogs now lived in different cities and had assumed new names. Second, I was pleased to learn that Colonel Potter made good on the promise to care for all four of them

Shy Tia was living in the greater Boston area. Dougall, Mom's favorite, was also in Boston. His health was improving; there had been no more seizures and dietary changes were helping his digestion. Kayla had relocated to Wisconsin. Only Maggie, the gentle sixteen year old of the quartet, was still local. She remained at Judy's farm. I was surprised by this because I was sure that Judy would keep Dougall all for herself rather than Maggie.

Unhappy Dougall. Photo by Judy.

Not long after receiving these updates, I was surprised to hear from Judy on August 18th. She explained that Dougall was not doing as well in Boston as hoped and that the consensus decision within Colonel Potter was to return him to Judy's farm where he would have open spaces to run and play like he had at Mom's. They also hoped that being reunited with Maggie would improve his spirits. I understood completely; the previous weeks had been rough enough for me and I had not been displaced from my home and separated from my closest friends.

Judy indicated that the transport was planned for the following weekend and asked if I was willing to help. Within the time it took to exchange a few text messages, I was committed to transporting Dougall back to Oakland County International in the Warrior.

The Human Chain

I was the eighth link in a human chain transporting Dougall from Boston to southeast Michigan. Coordinators of the transport were anxious about my involvement because it was their first time working with an aircraft in the mix. I worked openly and honestly with them to address their concerns and coordinated directly with Judy for the exchange at Michigan Aviation once we landed at Oakland County International.

I was impressed when the seventh volunteer arrived at the Williamson Sodus Airport right at her appointed 3:00 pm time. Considering how many volunteers were in the mix, there was a lot of opportunity to stack up errors. We loaded Dougall, carrier and all, directly from her car into the Warrior. He would ride next to The Bear in the back seat. As much as she was overjoyed to be reunited with him, the carrier made it a tighter fit than usual for her.

Flight from Walton's Mountain

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
24 Aug 2018N21481SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI)2.91839.1

While waiting for Dougall to arrive, I mentioned to Paula, a student pilot preparing for her check ride, and Brad, one of our instructors, that we were participating in a dog rescue flight. The airport was bustling when we taxied for departure. Brad was doing touch and go's with a student in One Delta Tango, Paula taxied to the runway behind us in Five Five Whiskey, and Ray was giving a helicopter lesson over the grass adjacent to the taxiway.

When I announced our departure on the radio, Brad responded by wishing us a good flight.

"Thanks!" I said.

"Have a good flight!" This from Paula.

"Thanks!" I said.

"Goodnight, John Boy," came a snarky broadcast that I'm reasonably certain came from the helicopter. As I went to full throttle, Kristy and I howled with laughter while The Bear fumed over not getting the joke.

So it was that, a month after I surrendered the dogs to Colonel Potter, we were bringing Dougall back to his forever home. I charged The Bear with monitoring his condition throughout the flight. If the sound of the ferocious Lycoming O-320 bothered Dougall in any way, he made no sign. At one point, I looked back to see him lying on his side in the carrier and idly scratching his snout with a paw. It was almost as if he was bored.

Other than an odd detour over Western New York requested by Buffalo Approach, it was a routine flight across Ontario. On final for runway 27L at Oakland County, we were asked to keep our speed up to accommodate a King Air behind us. I flew final at 120 knots, but Pontiac Tower sidestepped me to land on the shorter 27R at the last minute anyway. I landed smoothly in a 10 knot crosswind with a textbook slip to settle on the upwind wheel.

Colonel Potter's rules state that Dougall could not be removed from the carrier until he arrived at his new home. Fatal accidents had resulted in the past from a loose dog, so the rescue took no chances that Dougall would dart off into danger if freed from his portable prison. I understand the reasoning, but sympathized with the little guy. He spent thirteen hours in that carrier without a break and I imagine that his little doggie hind legs were crossed the last couple of hours.

I had provided Judy with a FlightAware link and she was already waiting at Michigan Aviation when Scott marshaled us in to parking. I called the Colonel Potter coordinator to let him know that Dougall was safely in Judy's custody. He sighed in relief. Clearly the entire international flight by light aircraft aspect of the transport made him anxious.

Photo by Judy.

And that was how Dougall got his wings. I carried him to Judy's car and discovered Maggie waiting for us. The two little Cairns were obviously pleased to see each other.

Mom's car was parked just fifty feet away from the Warrior. While I buttoned up the airplane, Kristy packed the car and we left in search of a late dinner. We wound up at a sushi restaurant in my hometown.

Sushi in Clarkston, MI? Now I've seen everything. Overall, it was good, though the restaurant was not as crowded as a decent sushi restaurant would have been in New York on a Friday night. All the better for us, I suppose.

Dougall newly arrived back on the farm. Photo by Judy.

Even before dinner was served, I received a text from Judy showing a very perky Dougall arrived at his new home.

Mission accomplished! What a wonderful use for an airplane.


We spent Saturday, August 25 in Clarkston cleaning out Mom's house. I reviewed every document in the house, sorting between those that needed to return to New York with me and what eventually became sixty pounds of shredding. While dozing off that night, I felt a purposeful tapping on my shoulder. I opened my eyes expecting to see The Bear standing before me, but there was no one there. Spooked, I slept fitfully the rest of the night. Kristy revealed that she dreamed people were banging on the windows trying to break in, which disrupted her sleep that night as well. We were a sorry bunch the next day.

Before departing Sunday morning, I mowed the lawn at Mom's for the first time since I was a teenager. Within an hour, we were back at Michigan Aviation. We drove directly to the airplane, unloaded the car, and returned the Subaru to its parking place alongside one of the large hangars.

When I entered the FBO, I was cheerfully greeted by one of the supervisors. "Hi Chris!" While I settled the fuel bill, he asked me, "What part of Wisconsin did you say you were from?"

"The part near Rochester, New York...?" I responded with a questioning lilt. Once a smart ass, always a smart ass, I suppose. Perhaps he had me confused with Kayla. With genuine sincerity, I thanked him for all of his help, especially allowing me to leave the Subaru on site. Having a dedicated car waiting there for me at the end of a 2.5 hour flight through Canadian airspace definitely made life easier.

Departure into the Clag

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
26 Aug 2018N21481PTK (Waterford, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY)2.51841.6

After obtaining our clearance, I was instructed to taxi to runway 27L for departure, only to be cleared for take-off from 27R by Tower.

"Pontiac Tower, was that 27 LEFT for Cherokee Four Eight One?"

There was a surprisingly long pause. "Yes, cleared for take-off 27 left, thanks for checking!"

We launched from Oakland County International with two miles of visibility and a 700 foot ceiling. Tower advised that the tops were reported at 4,000 feet and, indeed, we finally broke out in that vicinity.

En route to ADRIE, we were switched first to Flint Approach, then Selfridge Approach.

A VFR aircraft (seriously, in those conditions?) called Selfridge looking for flight following to "Knoxville, Delta X-Ray Kilo."

I looked at Kristy in alarm. "That's not right. It's Delta Kilo X-Ray." Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (DKX) was one of our homes away from home and I knew it well.

"Say again the identifier for Knoxville," responded Selfridge. Kristy gave me one of those see, he already knows sort of looks.

"Delta X-Ray Kilo," repeated the pilot.

"I don't have an airport with that identifier in my database," responded the controller at Selfridge. I have never butted-into a conversation between a controller and another pilot before, but I could not help myself in this case.

"Selfridge Approach, Cherokee Four Eight One. If it helps, the identifier for Knoxville Downtown Island Airport is Delta Kilo X-Ray."

"Oh, yeah, that's it," responded the other pilot.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, thanks," answered Selfridge. I was curious about how the pilot of a VFR aircraft planned to get south of Detroit in the low weather, but we were handed off to Toronto Center shortly thereafter and, as so often happens, the story was over without a resolution.

Bombardier's view: a break in the clouds over the St Clair River while crossing from Michigan to Ontario.

With a 20 knot tailwind and groundspeeds around 140 knots, we returned home quickly. Though there was a significant line of clouds at our altitude, we flew alongside without our paths intersecting.

Tracking just south of Buffalo, we crossed the Niagara River in the clear, but clouds to the north were substantial. A club trip to Niagara Falls had been scrubbed that morning because of those clouds.

I requested the RNAV 28 approach into Williamson Sodus, but spotted the airport in the descent to the initial approach fix, canceled IFR, and turned directly onto an extended 45° entry to the downwind.

We were excited to have flown a successful mission. We had helped Dougall in his time of need and, in the process, flown our first animal rescue flight.

I went home and mowed my lawn in the sweltering summer heat, unintentionally adding another advantage of airplane ownership to my growing list: the ability to mow two lawns 300 miles apart in the same day.

On second thought, maybe that is not really much of a perk.

No comments:

Post a Comment