Willow and Big Mac Get the Flight of their Lives

Mission – A Long Flight With Big Mac and Willow

Now here is a mission flight that had a couple of unexpected twists and a bunch of firsts.

Mission Details

Our Out of Pocket Fuel Bill: $509
Hours to Complete Flying Responsibilities: 16
Flight Hours: 7

Flight Legs

Raleigh, NC to Rocky Mount, NC

Leg 1: Raleigh, NC to Rocky Mount, NC

Rocky Mount, NC to Georgetown, DE

Leg 2: Rocky Mount, NC to Georgetown, DE

Lancaster, PA to Raleigh, NC

Leg 4: Lancaster, PA to Raleigh, NC

Peggy Harrell from SPCA Alliance of NC contacted us about transporting two dogs from Rocky Mount, North Carolina to North Adams, Massachusetts. Both were hounds and weighed approximately 50 lbs.

Mac had recently had one of his hind legs amputated due to a shattered knee. But was doing really well per the Vet.

We later found out that Mac had been found limping on the side of the road, was picked up and taken to a shelter.

A specialist was contacted and since his knee had been shattered there was no way to fix it so they had to amputate it. Since Mac had been limping for a while it was decided to remove the entire leg since he was not using it.

Mac’s owner was contacted before the surgery but could not afford it since he had just lost his job. So the SPCA paid for the surgery and brought Big Mac back to health.

Poor Willow shortly after she arrived at the shelter after being found by the side of the road.

Poor Willow shortly after she arrived at the shelter after being found by the side of the road.

Willow was found near death, so weak she could not lift her head. Peggy from the SPCA said, “Poor Willow had just about lost hope in the shelter.  When we got her to the vet, we found she had hookworms, ring worms, was dehydrated and starving.   She had run away from home a couple of months before being picked up wandering the streets, scared out of her mind.  She’s all healed up and gained 16 pounds.”

While donations were being requested to pay for Willow’s care, Willow’s owner found out and wanted his dog back. He came to see Peggy, Willow was afraid of him and wouldn’t even wag her tail when he called her name. This told Peggy everything she needed to know. By this time Willow was legally hers but she wanted to be fair with the man. She told him how much it cost for Willow’s treatment and the man did not want to pay for the care so at that point the man shook Peggy’s hand and told her she could keep her. He also told her that Willow had had 4 litters.

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This was a difficult trip to organize. The trip was to originally happen on Thanksgiving weekend but due to the Holiday not many pilots were available so it was made for the following weekend. Even then the second leg of the trip kept getting transferred to different pilots.

This was pilot.dogs first trip with a volunteer. An email was sent to our volunteer list and the first to respond was Mary-Margaret Steele. Mary-Margaret has 2 dogs of her own, is an amazing watercolor color artist where her art can be found at the Artist Loft in Wake Forest, NC plus she is a Reflexologist at The Main Squeeze Salon in Wake Forest. With 2 active dogs on this rescue we couldn’t have done it without her. Plus she made us amazing sausage biscuits we snacked on in flight. We really needed them for the long day we had.

Pilot Steve and Mary Margaret ride up front.

Pilot Steve and Mary Margaret ride up front.

We met Mary-Margaret at 8:15 AM just outside the gates at Raleigh Durham International airport. She is a beautiful person and a wonderful passenger. We had some curve balls thrown at us along the way and she never complained. Thank you Mary-Margaret!

After getting the plane ready and fueled, we left Raleigh around 9:15 on Sunday, December 6th to pick the dogs up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

On the way to Rocky Mount we received a text from the pilot meeting us in Georgetown, Delaware. Scott said he would be a little late due to ground fog in New York which was prohibiting him from leaving. We told him that was ok, to stay safe and we’d wait in Georgetown for him.

Lawson and her husband Tommy met us at the airport with Mac and Willow. They are volunteers for the SPCA and agreed to transport the dogs to the airport for Peggy. What wonderful, dog loving people they are. They treated the dogs as if they were their own.

Lawson and Tommy meet us with the dogs.

Lawson and Tommy meet us with the dogs.

We gave them a gift bag from two wonderful companies who donated these items to the rescues. Smiling Dog Coffee and Plato Dog treats. I have to say everyone involved with dog rescues are such kind and wonderful people to work with.

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Special thank you to Pilots to the Rescue for being a higher level supporting patron. Become one here.

Special thank you to Pilots to the Rescue for being a higher level financial supporting patron. Become one here.

We took off in some light low clouds for Georgetown, Delaware where we were to meet Scott who would then take both dogs onto their final destination of North Adams, Massachusetts. It was a two hour flight for us to Delaware.

It was cold up in the air but Mac and Willow were kept warm by snuggling up to Pam and with the blankets we brought for them. When dogs are cold they like blankets! We sent the blankets onwards with them so they would have something familiar with their scent on it to comfort them.

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At first they were a little uncertain of cuddling with Pam but in no time they had their heads on her lap as she rubbled their head and ears. They soon bonded to her.

Mac and Willow were amazingly at ease with each other considering they had never been together before but they acted as if they’d always been together.

We arrived in Delaware around noon and took the dogs with us to have lunch at the airport restaurant. Everyone at the restaurant just loved the dogs. The staff gave us fresh water for the dogs and kept coming out to see them. Scott still had not been able to take off from his airport in New York. They weather was getting better around the airport but not at the airport.

We had lunch, but Big Mac was obviously hungry. We could tell by the way he kept trying to get his nose into our food.

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So we fed Mac a Plato Pet Treat Chicken Thinker Stick, which he loved, and walked the dogs to prepare to load everybody back up and head further north.

For all you single pilots out there, dogs are total “chick magnets”. Ladies love rescue dogs!

Around 1:30 PM Scott texted that he finally took off but that left him with a dilemma. Since it gets dark early and his airfield was a grass strip with no lights, he needed to be back home before dark. His flight to Delaware would take two hours there and two hours back not including dropping the dogs off in Massachusetts. So we volunteered to fly further north to shorten his trip. After some planning we loaded up the dogs and flew another hour north to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

We landed in Lancaster around 3:00 PM. Scott wasn’t there yet but would soon be and he had to turn right around and head back to beat the dark. The FBO there, Alliance Aviation, welcomed us with open arms and said we could take the dogs inside to rest.

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By the time Steve had filed the flight plan for the trip home, Scott landed and it was time to say our goodbyes. Mary-Margaret and Pam spent a lot of time with the dogs and both really had a hard time saying goodbye. They were such loving and sweet dogs. How anyone could give them up is beyond comprehension!

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After tearful goodbyes, Scott and the dogs were off to their foster home up north. Kathy Hynes with Got Spots was taking them in. She’s a former military and flight nurse who now works a flexible schedule so she can care for her foster dogs. She might even adopt them.

We loaded up and were on our way home – tired and hungry. But then we discovered a few more or Mary Margaret’s biscuits in the plane so we snacked on those as we flew down the Chesapeake Bay and watched the sun setting.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Scott had already made it back safe and sound and Mac and Willow had already made it to their foster home before we arrived back in Raleigh after dark. We found out Willow had already made friends with one of the other dogs, a 14 yr old lab, and was lying on a blanket watching TV. Mac was off taking a nap. It was a long day but we all had a good time. How could you not have a good time with all of the wonderful company we had!

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Mary Margaret Shares Her Impression of the Day

Here is what Mary Margaret had to say about her volunteer experience.

Hello Pam and Steve,

Can’t thank you enough for the volunteer opportunity this past Sunday. Truthfully I still haven’t ‘landed’ yet!

I have been spreading the word about what you are doing. Seems my friend Martha Hewitt O’Neil has already volunteered, donated $ and ordered a hoodie jacket. Her Dad is the one that was a pilot in the Air Force and then had his pilot’s license and a plane most of his life.

My synopsis of the whole thing—-

Was elated to find out from Pam that I was chosen me for the mission on 12-6. Her phone calls and the RDU maps prepared me for what I was getting into and where I needed to report for duty. I found the parking lot at the airport with no trouble and I had just the right amount of gear so I wouldn’t get cold. Being comfortable is important when you are flying in a small plane.

Steve quickly enlisted my help to fix up some goodie bags for all the folks involved in the transfer. Pam and Steve were super organized and that shared all the details of what they were doing and why. Needless to say they put me at ease and I felt like I was part of the team right away.

Steve got the plane ready while Pam got everything set up for the dogs. Steve ordered some fuel and started talking to the tower in preparation to depart from RDU. He had filed all his flight plans and that really put me at ease. We made a quick jaunt to Rocky Mount to pick up the dogs. Lawson and Tommy met us at the gate with two worn and tattered deer hounds. Big Mac had recently lost his back right leg but it didn’t seem to bother him at all. Willow was a lovely old soul that seemed to take everything in stride. Steve and Tommy lifted the dogs into the plane and Pam got them situated with harnesses and blankets. She even had some secret treats in case they got motion sickness.

Once we were situated we took off for Georgetown, DE. The weather was perfect and the flight was smooth. Steve communicated with all the ATC folks while Pam communicated with the pilot that we were supposed to meet in DE. Early on we found out there would be delays. But Steve and Pam never got upset. Once we got to the airport in Georgetown, we let the dogs walk and we got some lunch. The restaurant staff made sure Big Mac and Willow had water and we had food!

As we waited, it became apparent the pilot was not leaving NY until later and he was VFR—which meant he could not takeoff through the clouds. He asked us to come further north so he could make it all work. Steve and Pam never complained. We loaded up and Steve in his professional pilot manner made flight plans to Lancaster, Pa.

We flew over lovely farm land as well as great expanses of water. We crossed over the Chesapeake Bay and the eastern shore of Maryland and onward to Amish country in PA. We landed in Lancaster and unloaded. We were not there too long before the pilot arrived from NY. Pam gave him the details and paper work and she and I cried. Guess I hadn’t thought about saying goodbye to the cargo. But I was tearful but also joyful to see them have the chance to have a better life with families they would love them.

We help get the Big Mac and Willow in the plane with Scott and waved goodbye as they taxied down the runway. Steve ordered up some fuel and then we packed up and headed home. It was a lovely sunset as we flew back over the Chesapeake bay and the Potomac River. Steve was so nice to answer all my questions and I swear I never asked “ are we there yet?”.

And would I do it all again? Yes, I would! In a NY Minute.

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All the Mission Photos

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Pilot Steve
About Pilot Steve
Just a pilot saving dogs.

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