Aviation Community Helping Aragorn in Illinois Get Home To Maine
Big barks to all these aviation folks working to get Aragorn home!
Susan Bennett, 35, a single mother who is raising her 19-month-old son and 12-year-old daughter, thought she would never see her 9-year-old dog, Aragorn again, after he jumped out of the back of her truck during a cross-country drive. During an interview with Bennett, she found out that the private aviation community has a big heart. Sobbing, she said, "I'm so grateful to the wonderful people in the general aviation community for helping Aragorn to return home. Maine Aviation, Signature Flight Support and Air Royale International's huge donations--God, all I can do is cry out of joy and say thank you, thank you."
In late January, Bennett and her children, with Aragorn in the back of their 1984 pickup truck, began a long cross-country drive moving from New Mexico to St. Francis, Maine. Due to a work-related injury, Bennett is scheduled to have part of her left arm amputated; getting to St. Francis as quickly as possible was a priority. After spending the night in a small motel in Pittsfield, Ill., on Jan. 31, Bennett, her children and Aragorn were ready to hit the road. After driving for nearly 200 miles, Bennett stopped for fuel and food. When she opened the back of the camper shell, to her horror, she discovered that Aragorn was gone. Adding to Bennett's nightmare, she also discovered her purse had been stolen. "I couldn't believe it; my dog was gone and all the money I saved for my operation was gone," she said. "But I felt lucky because I had my cell phone."
The motel where Bennett had stayed said they hadn't seen her dog. While Bennett was packing up leaving the motel, Aragorn jumped out of the truck to see what his owner was doing. Unaware that Aragorn wasn't in the truck she drove away. Apparently, Aragorn tried following the truck, but then returned to the motel later to sleep on its porch. Four days went by until Shelly Coleman from the Pike County Animal Shelter picked up the dog.
"He was on motel's porch, obviously waiting for Susan," said Coleman. "This is the sweetest dog in the world; he's been with us since Feb. 3. We don't keep Aragorn in a cage; he hangs out with all of us. He's very special and we're all going to cry when he leaves. But we can tell he misses Susan and her children. We also want to thank the private aviation companies and all the individuals who are trying to find a way to fly Aragorn home--you don't hear about commercial airlines doing something like this."
The General Aviation Community To The Rescue
With Bennett in St. Francis, and financially unable to return to the animal shelter to pick Aragorn up or pay to have him fly home on a commercial plane, Aragorn's fate was published in the local Pike County Express by Laura Bowen. Judy Crawford, who read the story, paid $318 for a Delta flight to fly Aragorn to Portland, Maine. But the flight was cancelled by the airline, as it was too cold they said to fly the dog in the belly of the plane. Crawford's $318 was returned to her and she donated it to the animal shelter for Aragorn's extended stay. Robin Oitker, office manager of the paper, searched for air charter companies in Portland,Maine and ended up speaking with John Steele at Maine Aviation, who schedules the company's flights. Steele and his company wanted to help get Aragorn back home after hearing what had happened. Through the National Business Aviation Association's private forum, Steele, also an animal lover, wrote a post about Aragorn, asking for help from other aviation companies.
"We felt we had to do something to help reunite Aragorn with his family," Steele said. "Maine Aviation has committed to use one of its aircraft to pick up Aragorn from the Boston, New Jersey or Portland, Maine area; then we'll fly Aragorn to St. Francis. We know the dog must be scared, so we'll put one our staff on board to tend to Aragorn. It's just a matter of getting the word out in our community in order to pull this off; I think we can do this. All we need is for one other air charter company to meet us with Aragorn."
Steele has spent countless hours talking to various people trying to help coordinate this effort. His post on the NBAA forum got the ball rolling. Bennett says Steele is a guardian angel.
During an interview with Steve Lee, president of Signature Flight Support, the largest fixed base operation in the world, he said, "The moment I read that post, I told Mike French, our general manager at our St. Louis FBO, to donate 250 gallons of fuel to any aircraft that will fly in to transport Aragorn to an airport meeting up with Maine Aviation. Additionally, we're waiving 100 percent of all fees; we want to give an aircraft operator incentive to fly Aragorn.
"My wife and I have two dogs and they're part of our family; I can't imagine them not being with us," Lee said. "We really feel for Bennett's situation and want to get her dog home to her and to her children. We need another air charter operator to cooperate with Maine Aviation. However, the donation of fuel and waived fees is good any of our FBOs nationwide that will fly Aragorn."
Wayne J. Rizzi, president and CEO of Air Royale International, an air charter broker company based in both Los Angeles and London, heard about Aragorn's plight and immediately stepped up to the plate.
"Air Royale is matching Signature's generous donation of 250 gallons of fuel; it's the right thing to do period," Rizzi said. "As a life-long supporter of animal rights and owning several dogs, I can't imagine what this poor woman and her children have gone through. For someone who is raising two children alone, facing amputation of her arm and still manages to keep a positive attitude, that's someone who deserves a little help in life right now.
"I encourage my fellow aviation colleagues to join this cause and get Aragorn home where he belongs. There are several air charter operators in St. Louis and nearby, which could easily fly Aragorn on an empty leg flight to meet Maine Aviation's aircraft. I applaud both Maine Aviation and Signature Flight Support."
Steele, said a couple of private pilots have offered to donate $50 to $100, which is really appreciated. "It all counts," he said.
How To Get Aragorn Home ASAP
Signature's corporate office has dedicated telephone number (407) 206-5292 for anyone wishing to donate or to help with a flight to reunite Aragorn with his family. To coordinate a flight with Maine Aviation, you can reach Steele at (207) 780-1811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Steele has also volunteered to coordinate Aragorn's flight with Oitker of the Pike County Express.