Where Beagles Have Soared: On My Cessna, Dog Is Literally My Co-Pilot
Having a small plane and a pilot's license is a blessing in these days of overbooked commercial flights, bizarre security measures, and inflexible scheduling. It's especially valuable for a small-business owner, because I'm able to arrange trips at the last minute and string together multiple stops. And perhaps best of all, I'm able to bring my 22-pound Beagle, Roofus, along with me on trips in my Cessna without paying a ransom to the airlines, or worse yet, putting the dog in cargo.
Most of the time, Roofus just snoozes in the back seat, but sometimes he gazes out the window at the small towns, big cities, and scenic countrysides we pass over at 5,000 feet. I've fashioned a "canine class" compartment for him, using an open crate with a big fluffy pillow and a harness attached to the seat belt. I bought him a pair of mutt muffs to protect his ears but he wouldn't keep them on so instead I use an elastic knee brace that fits snugly over his head. He looks kind of silly but it keeps him warm and shields his ears from airplane noise.
A few summers back, I had arranged business meetings in Minnesota, New York, and Iowa and thought this would be a good opportunity to do some camping with Roofus along the way. We departed San Francisco on a sunny July day and made our way east.
Our first stop was a scenic back-country grass airstrip nestled in a valley in the Idaho mountains. You had to follow a winding creek to the runway then land uphill. The campground was one of the nicest I’ve ever seen, and there was plenty of chopped firewood near the campsites.
Our next stop was Bozeman, Montana. The aviation service company (called an FBO, for fixed base operator) treated us like royalty. The woman behind the counter gave Roofus some doggy biscuits and then handed me the keys to the courtesy car. She gave me directions to a nice trail and waterfall in the National Forest.
The scenery was awesome and Roofus met several doggy friends on the trail, as well as dozens of little kids day camping in the forest, each one of whom wanted to know if it was okay to pet the dog. Roofus obliged them all but by the time we got back to the car it was obvious we’d be stretching the hospitality of our hosts at Bozeman. We headed back to the airport for the flight to Minnesota.
My client had booked me a room at a pretty swanky resort, but unfortunately, this place still discriminates against Canine-Americans so I had to cancel that reservation. After a couple of calls, we found a pet-friendly hotel not far from my meeting.
Leaving Minnesota, we headed further east for New York, and found ourselves crossing Lake Michigan. I picked Flint as my landing spot for no particular reason other than I had never been there. The FBO gave us a crew car and Roofus and I headed for lunch at an outdoor eating spot, this time a drive-in called Big A. The hamburger was too big for me to finish, and the waitress brought Roofus several biscuits to go along with the french fries he had purloined when no one was looking.
On the way back from New York, I decided to stop at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the site of the AirVenture show. Trouble is, thousands of pilots fly in to this event and all of the rooms were booked up far in advance. Most years, they let you camp on the grass next to the runways at the airport, but there had been some torrential rain that year and most of the grass was flooded.
Fortunately, a number of residents were renting out rooms. One listing offered a six-person camper in their yard, which was not too far from the show. I asked if it was okay to bring a dog and they said sure –- they would even watch him for me while I was at the show.
On the way home, Lincoln, Nebraska, looked like a good place to stop and I thought it would be nice to have a hotel room. I called the FBO and asked if they could they find me a hotel that was dog-friendly. The landing at Lincoln went well and I pulled up to the ramp, where the occupants of another small plane were just getting out.
Roofus is normally very eager to get out of the plane once I land, but this time he was particularly antsy. No sooner had I opened the door and put his leash on, when he took a big dump right there on the ramp with everyone watching. It was a smelly, runny pile of poop and much more than his normal load. I wasn’t sure what they were feeding him in Oshkosh but I wondered if he hadn’t pilfered food from one of the other pets in the house when no one was looking.
I ran to the plane to get a poop bag and pick up the mess. Before I could dispose of that bag, Roofus proceeded to take another disgusting dump, which sent me scurrying back to the plane to get another poop bag. Before we made it in the door he pooped a third time and when I got to the counter with my three bags of poop, the FBO agent said she had found us a dog-friendly hotel. I hurried into the bathroom and washed my hands thoroughly.
The FBO dropped us off at the hotel and we found a food court next door with a variety of cuisines available and an outdoor table. I opted for the Chinese food but made a point not to give any to Roofus, despite his sad facial expressions.
After one more night of camping in Wyoming, we made it back to California. Flying for great distances gave me a good chance to bond with my dog, and if he could talk, I’m sure he would say that he enjoyed visiting the many places we had flown as much as I did.
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