Flight Time In Dog Years

This flight flung me back to the dog pound. Just trying to get into the cockpit, and boom: flashback to the day I divorced my dog.

There was no one left in the boarding area when I tromped down the jetbridge about ten minutes prior to scheduled departure. I’d been up in Flight Operations printing a new flight plan after a major route change to avoid the severe weather over Tennessee and Kentucky I knew we’d read about in the next morning’s headlines.

Hadn’t met the Number Four flight attendant yet, but she was planted squarely in the doorway. No “Hello, my name is,” nor opportunity for me to do the same. Rather, hands on hips, looking at me like it was my fault, she said, “The woman in 4-F wants to know if her dog got on.”

She got a couple seconds of grace time as I struggled to not say something smartassed. Like most flight attendants, she was a pro at handling people, and handled me too: “He’s in there pushing buttons,” she said, jerking a thumb at my First Officer, “so he’s busy.” But before she could ask me if I’d go down to the ramp and poke my head into the forward cargo compartment and page 4-F’s dog, I slipped past her, saying, “Yeah, ten minutes prior to pushback I have a few buttons to push too.”

That’s when the flashback smacked me in the face: the look in her eyes, having been sidestepped, was the look in my dog’s eyes as he drove away. Not really disappointed, because she wasn’t that invested in 4-F’s dog. Rather, it was a problem solving-thing, a rearrangement, the details that would get us all under way peacefully, dog or no.

Same with Gus, my ex-dog. He lived his life with that look, the notion spelled out in his eyes that like my flight attendant colleague, was all about getting on with it. Maybe because he was a pound-mutt, a Retriever-Chow mix, stoic as his Mongolian ancestors which tempered the Retriever friskiness: he was the perfect dog. Time spent in the pound gave him an ex-con’s wariness, as if a skepticism about how “the time” was going to go overruled assurances and even a prescribed sentence.

Gus, the beer drinking, baseball watching perfect dog.

But on a jet? I know every airline charges substantial fee to bring a dog on board. Since the all-important 4-F dog wasn’t in the cabin, I assumed it was probably too large and so had incurred an even larger shipping fee below decks in the cargo hold.

Clearly, this was about somebody wanting something important from their dog, not vice versa, because I’ve seen dogs crammed into the cargo hold in kennels.  Not a cool way to travel.

This trip was about the dog’s owner and so more than the welfare of the dog, the question of whether he was on board had everything to do with what the owner wanted.

That was the reason for divorcing my dog: I wanted what was best for him, not me.

Our time together started out simple: a neighbor kid fed and watered Gus when I was flying; at home, we had baseball nights alone. For a while there, I indulged his expensive taste in beer: he turned his nose up at anything but RedDog once he’d tried it. An Amstel Light for me, a couple ounces of RedDog for Gus. It got to be too much, having to buy a separate–and more expensive–beer for the dog: it was like having company all the time.

Take it or leave it, pal.

We drove everywhere in my old Blazer, the back seats down so he could walk around and fall down a lot–he never grasped centrifugal force–singing bawdy dog lyrics to old Beatles CD’s (“I wanna mount your leg . . . and when I hump you I feel happy, inside . . .”) which was all well and good while it lasted.

Then came the girlfriend. I’d had “girlfriends,” but this was and still is the one. We got married. Built a house. Had a child. And Gus got edged out bit by bit: time and baseball and beer drinking (he NEVER had to go to the bathroom and looked at me like “you whimp” when I had to by the fifth inning) gave way to a re-engineered household and lifestyle, joyous for us; for Gus, not so much. He was an outdoor dog–had to literally drag him inside in bad weather–and too rough for the new house; too big around a newborn.

But then I knew my old baseball and Beatles pal still needed–and deserved–time and attention. He was near ten by then and I knew he wasn’t, in the twilight of his dog years, going to get it from me.

I put an ad in the paper. Rejected several families after the “interview:” nope, not sending Goose into a worse situation.

Then an old broken down sedan pulled up, huffed a mighty sigh and died. The driver’s door swung open and a disheveled man stood. A scruffy looking boy climbed out of the back seat.

Through thick Spanglish, the story unfolded. His German Shepard, best friend for all of his five years, had died. They saw the ad; hoped maybe they could find the right dog; no money for adoption. They had a yard and a vacant lot, all fenced. Gus could run, would get the attention he needed.

And that was that. He drove off, not even looking back, all about the “now,” as dogs seem to be. Tomorrow doesn’t exist, yesterday doesn’t matter any more. Bye.

The flight interphone cracked to life in my headset. “Ground to cockpit,” came the Crew Chief’s voice on the ramp below. “You guys ready up there?”

And I wondered to myself: is that what you do if you’re a dog’s best friend? Keep him with you at all costs? Or send him off–or below in a cage–and continue on “there” or wherever no matter what? The cargo hold? A beater sedan?

“No,” I answered, unstrapping. My First Officer gave me a “what the hell?” look as I stepped out of the cockpit. The agent, too, looked startled. “Be right back.”

Out through the jetbridge, down the stairs to the ramp. The guidemen with their wands and day-glo vests eyed me quizzically. I ducked under the fuselage, over to the forward cargo door a ground crew woman was about to close. “Wait.”

I leaned into the chest high cargo door, letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. There.

Medium sized kennel; medium sized dog. So far so good. “Hey buddy, you okay?” I ignored the ground crew woman’s stare burning a hole in my back. Five minutes till push, I knew she was thinking, we’ve got to get moving.

Brown eyes stared back. Some kind of beagle; nice looking dog. Same Gus eyes, too: not sure where I am, or where I’m headed, but let’s get on with it. Maybe even a little bit sardonic, like Gus sitting quietly as I take the mandatory fifth inning plumbing break: you wuss.

I turned to the ramper waiting to close the door. “Okay.” Back under the fuselage, up the jetbridge stairs. I brushed past the still befuddled  gate agent and strapped back into my seat. The dog’s about the now, the getting there, hopefully to a better place. Maybe a double yard with room to run; a little boy who’ll fill up his world again.

“Okay to shut the cabin door?” the agent asked, “Everything good up here?”

Good? Well, probably not beer and baseball, or at least not RedDog. But a better world, so the trip would be okay.

“Yeah,” I answered, flipping on all six fuel boost pumps overhead and arming the engine igniters. “Let’s get on with it.”



19 Responses to “Flight Time In Dog Years”

  1. This one moved me to many different levels. Beautiful writing. It really makes you think about what is important. Thank you

    • You know, I still think of Gus now even though I’m sure he’s long gone (our “baby” is now in fourth grade). But I hope that was the best thing for him. Thanks for commenting.

      • WOW…you brought out emotions in me like up to now, only “Steel Magnolia’s” could. That movie makes me laugh, then cry, then laugh while crying, etc.
        I was laughing SO HARD at your cartoon, being a F/A myself, but then I stopped laughing. You made me think of all my beloved dogs over the years. Most of my childhood ones were found in the large church lot a few blocks away and brought home to nurse to health and remained. My mother always complained about me and my dad bringing the strays home but coming home early from school one day I found one of them in her lap…uh huh…she loved them all too. I am wiping tears away as I write this because I have had to give away yet another dog as my “life event” change would not allow my precious little girl to keep her very large Rottie-Shepherd who we got at 5 weeks old. As it was the apartment mgr allowed me to have 3 pets since as she put it, 1 cat only has 3 legs and one dog only weighs 4 lbs. So we put Raena (Mighy Queen in german), in the car and took her to San Antonio where many strays have gone before her…to my parents house. She’s very happy there, spoiled by my mom, and we get to see her often. But we still miss her. I call to check on her like I call to check on my child. My dad will tell me stories about how she walks thru the room and “re-arranges” the furniture due to her girth. He calls her “McHorsey”.
        Thanks for sharing your beautiful story…and for checking on 4F’s dog…I’m sure it meant ALOT to the owner.
        Happy Contrails:D

      • Yours is a beautiful story and it has a happy ending. But that doesn’t make it any easier to part, or cause any less second-guessing, does it? Especially for your little one. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  2. Very nice piece, Chris…thanks for this one

  3. Napalm in the Morning Says:

    Best one yet Captain! Dogs rule my world. If I had my druthers … the Beagle would have been in the cabin running freely and most of the peeps would have been in cages below. As for the #4 and her deft use of line-of-sight problem solving … she knew you wouldn’t let her down. Do they teach that in the schoolhouse?

  4. Dennis Magnusson Says:

    Wow! Your a hell of a writer… and person.

  5. Staibilator Says:

    Hey, have you gotten a better camera phone, or am I just imagining your pictures are getting better?? Love your creativity as always. We need to fly again soon !! Yea fur sur.

  6. Theresa Harper Says:

    Very nice…i would be totally lost w/out my Whippet, Prancer…HE is my child!!

  7. It’s me, Gus. Water bowls up here are overflowing with beer way better than the horse pee you gave me. I’ve got this stupid cat to write messages into the computer for me, and a hot poodle who loves to… oh, never mind. Thanks for taking me in and finding me a good new home even though my seniority number was lower than your new-hire.

    Your human world down there has lots of problems. Too bad the noble spirit of us dogs isn’t a bi-species trait. Thanks for your story that reminds people of what little we ask for and how much we give.

    • Goose! So good to hear from you. I miss our beer and baseball nights, plus the Blazer drives with your favorite Beatles songs. You deserve every poodle you can sniff out, plus Red Dog, at least till I get there. Then it’s back to Coors Lite.

      Sorry about shooting you in the butt with the BB pistol, but it was the quickest way to train you not to poop on the pool deck. Say hello to Aspen and Alex, too. Better watch out for him, too: he’s got big teeth.

      • Yeah, I wasn’t a big fan of that BB gun or that vacuum either, now that you mention it. I guess if we’re coming clean, sorry about a couple of those “accidents” too. Sometimes you just looked like you needed some crap to clean up.

        Take your time getting up here – but some guy just barely junior to you keeps shooting prayers up this way hoping guys like you retire early. You might think about doing that instead of wasting away in that Stupid-80 Domestic gig. Why you would have all kinds of time to write and maybe adopt some of my friends… That junior guy bids reserve and goes low ’cause his dog gives him the big brown sad eyes every time he pulls out his suitcase. They’re both getting a little grey around the muzzle and realize Earth time together is short… good thing they got their first choice of vacation bids!

        Some things simply go together just right, like eggs and bacon (or gut-bombs and Pepto in your case), cool weather and a crackling fire, the light and quiet after it rains, but nothing fits so well as boys of all ages and dogs.

        Well, this isn’t cat heaven here, so I’ve gotta give my typist some “exercise” now! Plus that poodle’s in heat again (it’s already been 5 minutes…) Your blog, so your last word. WOOF!

      • There’s always someone junior (GOOMSOM = “get out of my seat old man”) and senior, till you graduate. The MD-80 gig pays for dog food for your successor, who ain’t half the dog you were plus has worse gas than any dog on the planet, but she’s attached to The Girl, and vice versa.

        The main thing is, it ain’t the job, but the time away from the job that makes all the difference. Thankfully, there’s more time in the latter than the former.

        Sorry to hear it’s so boring in the hereafter–there aren’t any trash bags there (at last, right?) or smelly old Pinheads with their innards hanging out of their butts, are there? Enjoy it while you can; when Peps gets there bad breath and gas will stink to high Heaven.

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