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Monday, July 16, 2012
Flying to the rescue Part I
At Midwest National Air Center near Excelsior Springs, Missouri in the U.S., a white Piper Cherokee aircraft drifts to earth like a sheet of paper in the bright twilight, the buzz of its single engine only slightly louder than the chirp of grasshoppers in the surrounding farmland.

On the ground, the plane taxis toward the terminal building. The propeller coughs to a stop, and the pilot unfolds his body backward through the passenger-side door. Standing on the wing he asks his passenger, "Honey Bee, do you want to get out?"

Honey Bee, a 2-year-old bluetick coonhound, raises her head and cocks her floppy velvet ears. The pilot strokes Honey Bee under the chin, then leans in and scoops up the 50-pound (22.7-kilogram) hound, no easy feat while trying to keep your footing on an aircraft wing.

Sam Taylor is a retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot who flew search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War. Now he flies animal rescue missions for a U.S.-wide network called Pilots N Paws.

On average, Taylor goes on one to three rescue flights a week. Most flights are in a 150-mile (241.4-kilometer) range, but he has flown much farther. In September 2010, Taylor was part of a mission that rescued 171 dogs from Louisiana after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Taylor would go more often if he could afford it. Pilots N Paws pilots pay for their own gas, which averages US$48 (approximately NT$1,400) per hour. Last year, Taylor spent US$3,255 (approximately NT$97,200) on gas for rescue flights. This year he's up to US$2,400 (approximately NT$71,700) already.

When he married in 2005, his wife Wanda's deep love of dogs began to rub off on him. In 2009, a co-worker told Wanda about a friend who flew rescue missions for Pilots N Paws. Wanda told Sam, "You should do this," she recalled. "When your wife is telling you to go fly, that is as good as it gets," Taylor noted with a wide smile.

Wanda has accompanied Taylor on only one rescue mission. On that mission, as usual, just prior to takeoff, Taylor called the new owner in Olathe, Kansas to give her a heads up on their expected arrival time. He learned that the adoption had fallen through, although he hadn't been notified. "We looked up and the animal control lady from Pryor was driving away," Wanda recalled. "I said, 'We can't leave her here.'" The blond Labradoodle lives with the Taylors now. They call her Pryor.


Taylor has transported 279 dogs and one cat, and he has pictures of every one of them in folders labeled in pencil: "Tuff the Weimaraner," "Pippen the Italian greyhound," "Layla the English pointer," and now "Honey Bee, the bluetick coonhound."

Honey Bee was rescued from a farm in rural Kentucky where a once-respected breeder descended into ill health and hoarding behavior and ultimately abandoned his property, leaving behind 29 coonhounds, many locked in kennels, horse stalls and the house.

Cases such as Honey Bee's are not uncommon in the U.S. South. The lack of spay and neuter laws in many states in the South combined with their higher shelter euthanasia rates — 70 percent is not uncommon — sets up a continuous flow of dogs and cats from the South to the rest of the U.S. More than half the rescues Taylor flies are shelter-to-shelter transfers, moving an animal facing euthanasia at an overcrowded shelter to a no-kill shelter that has room.

Many rescued dogs start their new lives with a stay at a long-term foster home while volunteers post information about the animal online in hopes of finding an adoptive family. Once an adoption is arranged, the rescue organization contacts a volunteer transport coordinator to cobble together a route that often involves six to two dozen legs by road and by air.

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