By Patrick Regan. Andrews McMeel Publishing. $16.99.
While this compelling mix of narratives has you literally flying high at times, it also captures the worst side of dog ownership, too, from starvation to neglect.
The real heroes here are the pilots, willing to donate time, fuel expenses and aircraft to fly dogs to their new permanent or foster homes or to a care facility. In essence, they are lifesavers.
Pilots N Paws is the outgrowth of a 2008 meeting between longtime South Carolina animal rescuer Debi Boies and a private Tennessee pilot Jon Wehrenberg, Boies has a love affair with Doberman pinschers, in fact, any in need of rescue.
One of those is a 4-year-old male that is pulled from a high-kill shelter in Tallahassee, Fla., 500 miles away. The dog bears many signs of an unhappy background, including formerly being used as a bait dog for a fighting ring, based on his teeth being filed down, and other body markings.
She posts an e-mail alert to a motor-coach owners group to which she and her husband, Bob, belong. A few days later, Wehrenberg responds and volunteers to fly to Tallahassee to pick up the dog. The pilot asks Boies about the need for this kind of service, and she responds, “Jon, you have no idea.” Hence the birth of Pilots N Paws.
Beforehand, long-distance rescues involved ground transport, sometimes 2,000 to 3,000 miles with more than a dozen drivers involved in some cases. The advent of Pilots N Paws, complemented by the internet, online forums and chat groups, has opened up the adoption prospects for thousands of animals otherwise doomed to be euthanized.
“These dogs know – I mean they absolutely know – that they’re being rescued,” says Wehrenberg. “Don’t ask me how. Every rescue I’ve spoken to about this has agreed with me that somehow the animals know that when they’re pulled from a shelter, and put on a plane and delivered to another rescue, their whole attitude changes, as though they know they don’t have to be scared anymore. They’re going to be safe. I can’t explain it, but it’s like they sense that everything is going to be okay.”
Regan chronicles 25 Flight Tales, each with its own title, a map showing the air route involved, the dog’s name, breed and age and total mileage flown. Each vignette is complemented with a meaningful mix of color photos, as well.
Only one, “A Pilot’s Pilot,” involving pilot Robin Lee and a 1-year-old, double merle Australian shepherd, is a Washington state entry. Double merles are usually hearing and/or visually impaired and mostly white. When Lee hears about the dog being quartered in an Olympia shelter, she contacts another member of the Aussie network, who operates a rescue called DART (Deaf Aussie Rescue and Training), who lives in Deming and is willing to foster the dog that becomes known as Pilot.
Lee’s air rescue is short – 86 miles – in comparison to most others. She flies from Seattle to Olympia, picks up the dog and takes it to Bremerton, where the foster mom is waiting.
“Copilot” soars with a rich nourishment of beguiling narratives, accented with true grit for starters and follow-up sugary, inspiring moments that connect powerfully with the reader.