By David Diamond
Animal rescue makes little sense if you try to make it work on a spreadsheet. The human and financial resources needed to transport, heal, and house animals is considerable. And does one value the life of an injured or unwanted animal?
While reading once about a kidnapping, I considered how horrible it would be to not know where I was, why I was there, or what came next. It occurred to me that the animals we rescue are in exactly that situation.
Domestic animals find themselves away from the homes they knew, while wild animals — typically injured or abandoned — find themselves in situations completely unnatural in terms of human proximity, vehicle transport, and, of course, caged captivity.
If I were in such a situation, I would be thankful if there were someone to help me. This was when I stopped doing the math and realized that if there is one thing we humans share with animals, it is our capacity for fear. We can’t take that fear away, but we can do everything in our power to make it temporary.
A few years ago, I committed to flying a dog named Dingo from San Francisco to Utah, but I ended up driving the 1,000-mile mission because my plane went down for maintenance.
Dingo was a street dog found outside of Istanbul, Turkey. I picked him up at San Francisco International Airport and we drove back to my place in Truckee for the night. The next morning, we set out for Provo, where Dingo met the young couple who found him on a Turkish rescue organization website, Melez Dog Rescue.
There are tens of thousands of dogs already in U.S. shelters. Why fly one all the way from Turkey? The expense and human effort was staggering for this rescue. Not doing the math is sometimes the toughest part.
Dingo is now called Anubis by his new family. He even has his own Instagram account
My buddy Mary Hetherington, with whom I serve on the Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board, flew with me to Winnemucca to pick up a senior dog named Katie, who was in transit from Utah, after her guardian died.
We flew Katie to Redding, where a 93-year old World War II vet was waiting to make her his new buddy. He cried when he met Katie, explaining how he’d lost his wife a year before. Their dog had become a source of comfort until she, too, passed away.
It was difficult to be alone, he confessed, but a puppy didn’t make sense because he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be around. He went on to describe the trips he and Katie would take, and how much she would enjoy fishing with him, just like his last dog had.
Proudly wearing the Navy ball cap I imagined he always wore, this war-toughened veteran was clearly overcome. He was not doing the math and neither was I.
“Now I get why you do this,” Hetherington said. Her eyes were wet.
Lucas was an adult, unneutered German shepherd found in a Riverside, California field. His back leg was fractured. He was in the shelter for weeks without medical attention before he was rescued on his “kill day” after considerable logistics and effort.
Someone flew Lucas to Fresno, where I met them to fly Lucas back to Truckee. Another pilot would then take him to Boise, where a surgeon was on standby to help.
Lucas arrived in a transport crate the first pilot needed to keep. This meant I had to get Lucas out of the crate and into my plane. That fractured back leg wouldn’t make this easy.
He wasn’t keen on leaving the safety of the crate, so I had to reach in to coax him out. I expected to be bitten, but I didn’t know what else to do. When I touched Lucas, he whimpered and shivered, but he didn’t bite. He yelped as I carried him to my plane. I was a stranger to Lucas, but it felt like he knew I was there to help.
To this day, Lucas is the only animal I’ve ever transported that appeared to recognize the strangeness of air travel. He paced back and forth in the backseat of my plane the entire way to Truckee, hopping and limping to protect his broken leg.
By the time we returned to Truckee, bad weather had moved into Boise, so the last leg was canceled. Lucas ended up staying with me for a few nights while we waited for another weather window.
During that time, Lucas and I bonded. He seemed to think he was home with his new human. It broke my heart to know he wasn’t.
On his last night with me, Lucas and I were sitting on my balcony. He sensed something in the nearby forest. He let out a menacing growl and backed up, positioning himself between me and the perceived threat. When I moved to see what he saw, Lucas also moved, looking back at me to again make sure I was safely behind him.
I decided to fly Lucas to Boise myself because I needed to make sure he arrived okay, and that good care was awaiting him. Saying goodbye was tough.
Lucas went into surgery the next day; all went well. The surgeon sent me a photo after he was done.
Lucas was adopted by one of the coordinators of his rescue, with whom he lives today in a house along a river in Boise where he runs with other dogs.
Six months after I dropped off Lucas, I was in Boise on another rescue. I asked his new guardian if I could visit. She agreed, but warned me that he might not remember me, which I understood.
When Lucas saw me, he whimpered in excitement and ran to find some toys for us to play with. He crawled all over me, licking and nuzzling the entire time.
How much is a broken German shepherd worth? Between multiple flights, orthopedic surgery, medications, and countless hours of rehab, Lucas is a great example of math you can’t make work.
His new guardian asked if she could name me in her will as a caretaker for Lucas. I agreed.
My friend Lori Marquette connected me with an animal rescue organization for which she volunteers. What makes working with this organization different is that the animals are wild. I have since flown racoons, coyotes, raptors, and more.
Comforting domestic animals during transport is encouraged, but human interactions are not good for wild animals.
I found this particularly difficult while transporting an abandoned coyote pup. It seemed so much like a domestic puppy. It was difficult for me to see it so clearly scared while I was not able to provide comfort. Before I handed off the pup to the coordinator, I couldn’t resist saying one thing: “When you grow up, don’t kill dogs.”
How You Can Help
Animal rescue organizations need you. Most transport volunteers drive, so a plane isn’t a necessity. Fosters are also sought after for the short and longer term. All you have to do is contact an organization and ask how you can help — they’ll take it from there.
You’ll find the work rewarding, so long as you don’t do the math.
To those who rescue instead of buy, thank you. And to those who have lost pets they’ve loved so much, your pets asked me to tell you how much they appreciate the safe home and love you gave them. They’re in a place now with animals that never knew those things.
~ David Diamond is a marketing and communications consultant, author, musician, Truckee Tahoe Airport District board director, and a pilot who flies animal rescue missions on a volunteer basis. He co-founded and continues to tour with the ’80s band Berlin.
Local Animal Rescue Organizations
of Truckee Tahoe
(530) 587-5948; hstt.org
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care
(530) 577-2273; ltwc.org
Pet Network Lake Tahoe
(775) 832-4404; petnetwork.org
Cleft Pup Brigade
(408) 384-9741; cleftpupbrigade.org
Animal Rescue Relay
(775) 233-3365; animalrescuerelay.org
Crunchy Dog Rescue