Angel and Crystal, an inseparable pair of white German shepherds, acted as though they’d been flying in small airplanes their entire lives. The girls, ages 8 and 4, respectively, watched patiently as Dan and Zia Telfair readied their Cessna 182 Skylane at Double Eagle Airport a few days ago, then gingerly hopped aboard for their flight to Phoenix and a new chapter in their lives.
A month before, their 79-year-old owner – who had refused to go into a nursing home because she didn’t want to be away from her girls – died unexpectedly. Since then, the woman’s friends had been taking care of the dogs at their owner’s home. But circumstances prevented the dogs from finding a new home in Minnesota.
Enter Pilots N Paws – a nationwide, all-volunteer organization of pilots who, at their own expense, transport dogs like Angel and Crystal to rescue shelters – and the White German Shepherd Rescue in Phoenix, which specializes in finding homes for the popular breed.
“The flight went quite well,” said Dan, a retired Army helicopter pilot who, along with his co-pilot/wife, flew Angel and Crystal on the final leg of their journey from Minnesota on Oct. 27.
“They are so bonded … we ended up putting them in one crate. Fortunately, Angel loves to ride in anything, so she just hopped right in and Crystal followed her automatically. They went to sleep until we got to Phoenix,” he said.
For 13 years, Dan and Zia flew hundreds of volunteer flights for Angel Flight, an organization that provides free air transportation to patients needing to travel to distant medical facilities. Though that work was rewarding, they recently opted to concentrate on helping their four-legged friends.
They learned about Pilots N Paws through the proverbial grapevine.
“All the pilot volunteer organizations sort of cross-pollinate, so you hear about other organizations all the time,” Dan said.
Pilots N Paws proved to be an ideal project for the Telfairs, both of whom are military retirees, licensed pilots, plane owners and unabashed animal lovers.
“I love to fly, and I’ve loved dogs all my life,” Dan said in explaining his attraction to Pilots N Paws.
“I was raised in Mississippi, so we always had dogs when I was a kid. Once I got into the Army and got a commission, and could afford a real dog, I’ve always had German shepherds,” he said as Beau, the couple’s 4-year-old German shepherd adopted from Animal Humane New Mexico, sat attentively beside their dining room table.
“I haven’t been without one for more than a month since probably 1962,” Dan said.
Dan and Zia, longtime volunteers for Animal Humane and the city of Albuquerque’s Animal Welfare Department, are also former puppy-raisers for Canine Companions for Independence.
They have flown several Pilots N Paws missions – including last month’s flight for Angel and Crystal.
“This combines my loves,” Zia Telfair said. “I really enjoy working with dogs. I love the volunteer work I do with Animal Humane, and I love the opportunity to be with Dan in the airplane, doing something that’s useful and fun.”
Angel and Crystal were ferried from their home in Minnesota by several Pilots N Paws volunteers. A pilot from Santa Fe flew to Centennial Airport in Denver on Saturday to pick up the duo, then flew them to Double Eagle Airport that afternoon. The shepherds stayed with local Pilots N Paws volunteer Dave Shaver overnight, and Shaver took them to the Telfairs at Double Eagle the next morning for the final leg of their journey.
The Telfairs were met in Phoenix by a volunteer with White German Shepherd Rescue. Nancy Swanner, founder and director of the rescue, said Monday that Angel and Crystal are doing well.
“Considering what these two have gone through, they have adjusted remarkably well to living in my home over the past week,” Swanner said. Angel and Crystal will go to a foster home for a few weeks to adjust to their new lives.
“They have lost everything – their home, their ‘mom’ – everything. I’m going to see how they do together over the next couple of months and will make the decision when they become adoptable,” she said.
The aim, she said, is to find a “forever home” that will adopt Angel and Crystal together so the pair don’t have to be separated.
That was good news to the Telfairs, who said the two white shepherds were a joy to transport.
“I’m sure they’re happy to be in a regular home with people again,” Dan said.