Volunteer Pilots Fly Foster Pet from SoCal to Colorado’s Vail Valley
June 27, 2017
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  • Sashay has now flown in more airplanes than much of the world’s population — two.

    The 9-year-old female pitbull did it all on Monday, leaving Santa Barbara, California, at 5:30 a.m. and landing at the Eagle County Regional Airport around noon. Denny Benson and Wayne McClellan did the flying. They volunteer with an outfit called Pilots n Paws. Benson’s from Steamboat Springs, and McClellan is from the Santa Barbara area.


    Sashay is in Eagle County because … as they say, “It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.”

    Sashay spent 410 days in the Santa Barbara County animal shelter, and 40 days with Michelle. Michelle, who asked that her last name not be used, was with the Eagle Valley Humane Societyfor many years, and now lives in Santa Barbara. Michelle set her mind to find Sashay a home and posted Sashay’s tale on her social media page, asking if someone was willing to foster Sashay.

    “She’s older and a black dog. She stood there quietly in her kennel when visitors came, so she didn’t get noticed,” Michelle said.

    When Michelle worked at Colorado Animal Rescue in Glenwood Springs, she heard about Pilots N Paws and checked them out. She posted Sashay’s story on their website, and within days two pilots — Benson and McClellan — connected with her.

    Fast forward to the Avon Pet Center, where China Marquardt works. Marquardt offered to be Sashay’s Colorado foster home. Marquardt has been doing pitbull rescue for 13 years and recently found a home for an older male. Debra Whitman owns the Avon Pet Center and is fully on board with this. Whitman picks up the tab for spaying and neutering and some other supplies, Marquardt said.

    “I just do the hustling,” Marquardt said, smiling.

    Marquardt hangs onto the foster dogs for a while, so she can get a feel for the dog and how it will react in most situations.

    Marquardt can gauge a dog’s reaction to almost any situation because her house is packed with most situations: two small kids, two pitbulls, a Mastiff and a Boston terrier that rules them all.

    “Any dog that comes through my home ends up being bomb proof,” Marquardt said.

    Mostly, Sashay reacts slowly, Michelle said.

    “She’s so easy and low maintenance. She’s older, so she doesn’t need to go on long hikes. She’d rather lay at your feet,” Michelle said.


    Pilots N Paws does this sort of thing all the time, Benson said.

    The organization has more than 5,000 pilot volunteers and more than 12,000 volunteers, their website says.

    McClellan flies a Diamond DL 40, and left Santa Barbara at 5:30 a.m. Monday, flying Sashay to St. George, Utah. Benson picked up Sashay there and flew her to Eagle County.

    Benson lives in Steamboat Springs and swung by the Eagle County airport because he didn’t want anyone to have to drive to Steamboat to pick up Sashay.

    Benson flies a Glass Air. It looks small, but like the hearts of volunteers who do this sort of thing, it’s huge on the inside.

    “I do it because it’s a lot of fun and I like dogs,” Benson said.

    Benson has flown “north of 100” of these missions. Sashay was no trouble, he said. She rode behind him with her head on his shoulder, looking out the front. Benson’s record is nine dogs: eight puppies and their mother.

    Pilots N Paws volunteer pilots fly all kinds of pets all across the country; mostly dogs and cats, but there are the occasional pigs, reptiles and rabbits. And there was this dolphin that one time.

    “They secured a tank in a plane and off they went,” Benson said, smiling.

    “After 15 years of animal welfare, for every case of neglect and abandoned animals, there are stories like this,” Michelle said.

    Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.