A Wing, a Paw and a Prayer

Scott Craven/The Arizona Republic

Pilot Mike Fadely scratches Cisco after flying the Anatolian shepherd from Cedar City, Utah, to Deer Valley Airport and a new lease on life. The 8-month-old stray, who's been adopted by a Valley couple, was to have been euthanized.

Pilot Mike Fadely scratches Cisco after flying the Anatolian shepherd from Cedar City, Utah, to Deer Valley Airport and a new lease on life. The 8-month-old stray, who's been adopted by a Valley couple, was to have been euthanized.

Volunteer Pilots Fly to the Rescue of Unwanted Animals

Scott Craven
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 20, 2003 12:00 AM

For years, the canine underground railroad depended on open roads and volunteers willing to drive unwanted and abused animals to new homes hundreds of miles away.

Cisco was one of the lucky ones. Had he known his journey would be one of hours rather than days, he would not have braced his front paws on the Cessna's door in a show of refusal.

Flying Paws
The non-profit organization works with rescue groups and humane associations to transport homeless pets in danger of being euthanized to new homes. It also flies sick and injured animals in need of emergency medical care.

It deals only with animals in crisis and does not transport privately owned pets or adopt animals. To volunteer or donate, or for information, visit www.flyingpaws.org.

Pilot Mike Fadely was undeterred, thrusting his hands under the Anatolian shepherd's flanks and hefting the 65-pound pup into the kennel jammed behind the front seats. Within minutes, Fadely was airborne from Cedar City, Utah, to Deer Valley Airport in north Phoenix, where Cisco's new owner would be waiting.

Cisco was one of dozens of dogs and cats that have flown the friendly skies of Flying Paws, a year-old non-profit service linking homeless or injured pets to new, caring masters. The program, run by pilot Marilyn Butler Subach of Phoenix, has proved invaluable to rescue organizations trying to get animals from Point A (a "kill" shelter) to Point B (a "forever" home).

Humane associations typically depend on a loose network of volunteers who drive legs of interstate relays to transport pets to new homes. Flying Paws not only saves time, it has freed drivers to cover other land routes, rescue groups say.

Happy Tails
Some animals who've flown the Flying Paws express:

• Cerbi: The Anatolian shepherd was left to starve in the back yard of a San Diego home. A foster home in Arizona volunteered to take him, but a vet said he could not survive the long drive. Flying Paws flew him to Taylor, where he now lives on a ranch.

• Buddy: The 20-pound mixed-breed pooch was dumped along a highway outside Superior. His rescuer found a home for him in Kanab, Utah.

• Chet: This 2-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever was left in the back yard when his Las Vegas owners moved. A local rescue group was notified and found a place for him in Breckenridge, Colo., where he now works with the ski patrol.

• Stone: The chow mix was taken to a west Los Angeles shelter when his elderly owner died. Stone was in his twilight years and scheduled to be euthanized when a resident adopted him and nursed him back to health. When she found another home for him in Phoenix, Flying Paws was contacted. Stone remains with the Phoenix family.

• Missy: The 8-year-old, slightly deaf Yorkshire terrier had been abandoned outside a Las Vegas Wal-Mart. Flying Paws took Missy to a new home in Gallup, N.M.

• Djingo: The owner of this 13-year-old poodle was sick and could no longer take care of him. A rescue group in Northern California placed the dog in a foster home. He later was flown to Phoenix from Modesto, on his way to a permanent home in Prescott.

• Duffy: A woman from San Antonio was vacationing in San Francisco when she saw the deaf poodle in an animal shelter. The woman had no way to get the dog home, so volunteers drove Duffy to Modesto. From there, he was flown to Phoenix and then El Paso, where volunteers drove him to San Antonio.

• White Diamonds: When the stray beagle was hit by a car in Phoenix, the Arizona Humane Society's emergency team responded and found she had a broken femur. The dog carried a microchip, issued by the Animal Rescue League of El Paso. That group said it would furnish medical care, so White Diamonds was flown to El Paso, her flight receiving a priority medical approach. Surgery was successful, and she now lives with a family in New Jersey.

• Beemer: The stray Shar-pei was hit by a car in Las Vegas, resulting in the loss of his right hind leg. Shar-pei Rescue placed Beemer in a foster home, then found a permanent home in Columbus, Ohio. Over the next two days, Beemer was flown to Columbus via Phoenix and Des Moines, Iowa.

• Strut: The Pekinese was brought to a Los Angeles shelter because his owners could not afford necessary eye surgery; one eye had to be removed. Strut was taken by a rescue group, which found a foster home in Heber. Three days after his surgery, Strut was flown from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, where his foster family picked him up. Strut, who recently lost the use of his other eye, is still in need of a permanent home. If interested, telephone 1-(928) 524-7805 or email kattznkittns@frontiernet.net.

"It's been a godsend," said Casey Kent, who runs Chesapeake Bay Retriever Rescue in San Manuel, in south-central Arizona. "There are some routes where you can never find a ground transport, especially in summer."

Subach preparing Suzie, a White German Shepherd mix pup for flight from El Paso to Phoenix.Subach, 62, launched Flying Paws because she wanted a reason to fly other than to grab a burger in Prescott. That reason presented itself on a desolate airstrip in February 2002.

The retired anatomy teacher, a dog lover who often volunteered for rescue groups, had gotten a call from a woman who'd found an abused golden retriever puppy on the Fort Apache Reservation. The dog would die without proper medical attention, which was available only in Phoenix.

The next day, Subach flew to Whiteriver, on the reservation in east-central Arizona. The only ones to greet her were the woman and the golden retriever. The pup limped toward her, its twisted front leg scraping the ground. The dog, christened Goldie, would need eight months to heal from its injuries: a broken leg, a bullet wound near its hip and severe lung congestion.

In those eight months, with Goldie by her side, Subach wondered if more animals might need emergency transportation. She talked to other pilots based at Deer Valley Airport and found a few willing to give of their aircraft and free time, getting little more than satisfaction and a blue Flying Paws polo shirt in return.

On its first official flight, the organization flew two deaf, homeless cattle dogs from San Antonio to Chandler. Since then, 77 cats and dogs have boarded 55 flights, and each has found a new beginning at the end of the line.

Ken McLeod, CEO of CSG Wireless in Phoenix, was among the first pilots to get on board. He also volunteered the use of his company's plane.

"It's a good thing to do, the right thing to do," McLeod said. "There are probably people who think we're nuts to spend so much time and money to help dogs. We have a responsibility to our animals. And when you fly a dog to its new owners and see their smiles, it's all worth it."

Nearly every flight is arranged with rescue groups and humane organizations via their Web sites. Rescuers routinely send e-mails asking for help in placing a homeless pet, usually one due to be euthanized. Often, adoptive homes are hundreds of miles away, as placements are scarce and rescuers are eager to accept any openings.

Such was the case with Cisco. The 8-month-old stray was picked up in Provo, Utah, and taken to the local shelter, where a member of the Anatolian Shepherd Rescue spotted him just days before he was to be euthanized.

The rescue group had no room for the dog, so e-mails were sent to rescue organizations throughout the West. Cisco's plight and photo were posted on several Web sites.

Anne Ellis of Apache Junction was looking for just such a dog and found out about Cisco online.

Rescue groups then tracked down volunteers to drive Cisco to Page or Flagstaff, where Ellis would meet them. But Subach simplified the arrangements when she agreed to have Cisco flown from Cedar City to Phoenix.

Ron Ellis, Anne's husband, was waiting for Cisco when the plane touched down at Deer Valley Airport. Ellis had been just 10 minutes away at his job in north Phoenix.

As Ellis filled out the paperwork, Cisco thrust his nose under the pen for attention. Ellis didn't mind the interruptions.

"I'm happy I didn't have to drive for hours to pick him up, although I would have," he said. "I was pretty surprised when my wife told me to pick him up at the airport. I thought someone found a way to ship him."

Pilot Fadely, preparing to fly back to his home in Goodyear, said the 10-minute meeting between dog and master made the six hours in the air more than worth it.

"Today, I flew over the Grand Canyon and was able to deliver a dog to a new home," he said. "Hard to beat that."