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2012 September 24-25, Monday-Tuesday
7 dogs and 51 cats transported to Oregon, Idaho, and California

Cat rescuers are a very special kind of people. While dog rescuers typically work with several dogs at a time, cat rescuers seem to always be working with several tens of cats at a time! Cat House on the Kings of central California and Simply Cats of Boise, Idaho are no exceptions. When Lynea Lattanzio of the Cat House first proposed this transport flight to me, I expected we would be transporting the usual number of cats that we typically fit comfortably into our single-engine plane ‘Bessie”  -- between 25 and 35. But when I told Lynea that Bessie was down for repairs after Hurricane Isaac and that the plane I thought I could rent out in California for a long-distance transport was a twin-engine Cessna, she was pleased no end, because that meant we could take about 50 cats and maybe seven to ten small dogs, too!  And it turned out that she was right.

Seven of the cutest small dogs I’ve ever seen -- whose breeds I could not identify but surely spanned at least 10 varieties -- met us at Reedley airport in central California around 11 am on Monday.  Along with them were 46 cats and kittens, in about 20 crates.  Way too many large crates even for this hefty, emptied-out airplane. Time for Plan B! We picked out the largest and tallest crates, and began deciding where we could place the cats inside them, among the remaining smaller crates.  Then we took all of the crates into the airport office, where we could accomplish these transfers in a closed area. No worries, though, the cats were immensely docile and tolerant of the whole process.  They didn’t even protest at being a good bit more crowded then they had been at the start.  We got the total number of crates down to 16, and filled the airplane cabin to the gills. All fit -- except one dog crate. So “Spam”, an adorable little golden-colored long-haired something-or-other, would ride with just a leash and could sit between out seats, in front of the crates and behind our chart box.

We planned to head directly for Hillsboro, OR, to drop off the seven dogs first. Then to Boise with the 46 cats. Because we had gotten such a late start, we decided to spend the night in Boise. The next morning, the plan was to bring five unadoptable cats back from Boise to live out their lives in sanctuary at the Cat House.  They also wanted us to bring back some donated cat food. So every leg of this transport would be full and put to  good use.

Within ten minutes of our smooth departure from Reedley, northbound for Oregon, Spam decided the only place for him was on my lap....

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Okay, he was quiet enough, I didn’t mind and it seemed no compromise to safety.  But a few minutes later, I felt something soft on my right shoulder.  (I flew right seat for this trip, as I am used to doing from being a flight instructor.)  I reached up and found a little ball of long, soft  gray fur.  What cage had opened?  I couldn’t turn around very easily, but out of the corner of my eye I thought saw the culprit cage, with door ajar just an inch or two against the cabin wall. I tried to remember how many cats were in that cage... judging by the size of this kitten, there could have been as many as four in that cage. Larry (my co-pilot) and I began preparing for the possibility of three more unplanned passengers arriving on our laps. It took another ten minutes or so, but soon a small tortoise kitten arrived on Larry’s shoulder. Somehow, by good fortune, the other two kittens from that cage decided to enjoy their roomy digs and never left their open cage.  So for the duration of the flight, Larry and I enjoyed warm, vibrating lap kittens.

But poor Spam!  He was terrified of this kitten (who of course was completely oblivious to Spam).  It took almost an hour for him to calm down and lay his head on the kitten’s back -- which was his only choice if he was going to remain on my lap, since there was only so much space available there. Plus, I had tied the other end of Spam’s leash around the kitten’s neck just to be sure they both stayed more or less where I put them. Larry and I planned out how we would handle this after we landed, since the kitten on his lap had no leash.  We decided that after landing, he would take Spam’s end of the leash and put it around his kitten’s neck. Then he would hold both kittens while I carried Spam out the front door of the plane and handed him off to the people meeting us, closing the door behind me.  Then I would look through the windows to see if there were any more cats loose or any more cages opened.  Then I would take the kittens one at a time and put them back in their cage, and then we could unload the plane normally.

All went well until we hit a slight bit of turbulence as we approached Hillsboro.  That caused the kitten to sit up and Spam and the kitten to face each other in mutual surprise and terror.  Fortunately, they got over it quickly, the air calmed, and we landed smoothly, prepared to carry out our exit plans.  Those also went smoothly, as fortunately there were no other cages open, and the other two kittens in the open cage were still inside, sleeping soundly.  So I put the kittens back in their cage, and we unloaded the remaining six dogs. We refueled the plane and set off for Boise, Idaho!

We really lucked out weather-wise.  The day before, when we had flown back to California from Great Falls, Montana, a wet cold front had passed through Oregon which would have made it impossible for us to have made this flight yesterday.  That front passed through the night before, and today the bad weather was just east of Boise. These two back-to-back transports up and down the west coast could not have been timed better, for weather over the mountains.  But flying southeastward from the Portland area to Boise, we were again engulfed in smoke.  We never saw flames, but there was no avoiding the smoke across the mountains. I was thinking that these people must wish that winter and its rains would come soon.

We reached Boise before dark, and three large SUVs showed up to meet us right on time. The folks from Simply Cats loaded up all the crates and left to begin what would be for them a late night of very hard work -- unloading the cats, cleaning all of the crates that we had brought, dismantling and nesting them for us to take back with us, and packing up what turned out to be some 400 pounds of cat food that they were sending back with us to the Cat House.  Bless these hard-working people! Larry and I were glad they were taking over. We were more than ready to check in at the local Super 8, take showers, and walk across the street for dinner at Applebee’s!

Four hundred pounds of kibble is a LOT of cat food!  By the time we had loaded that into the plane the next morning, mindful of the plane’s center of gravity and where we placed it all, we barely had room for all of the nested crates from the day before plus five very special passengers -- large cats each in his or her own large carrier, privileged to be heading back to the Cat House to live out their lives in sanctuary with freedom and the best of care.  These were beautiful, very pleasant cats, unadoptable because they were FIV-positive or had some other issues that required special care. The folks at Cat House are famous for making these “trades” -- they rescue cats and kittens, turn them into healthy, adoptable cats, and send them to responsible rescues and accept unadoptable cats in return.  From what I’ve seen, it seems to me that if the world could cooperate like cat rescuers do, everybody would be a lot better off!

After we dropped off all of the donated cat food, the empty crates, and the five cats at Reedley airport for their short car ride back to the Cat House, Larry and I took off to fly down to Bakersfield, where I was going to meet OWOC volunteer Dave and his adopted dog Sheba (formerly Cosette -- her story is here).  Sheba’s arthritis in her back and back legs has gotten worse, so Dave built some “training wheels” that she just loves, which make it possible for her to join Dave and his other dogs on their walks.  Dave and Sheba were there waiting for us, but as we climbed out of Reedley airport, Larry noticed a problem with the mixture control for the left engine.  We decided it would be wiser not to descend and take off again, so we remained at altitude and flew directly back to Los Angeles.  Fortunately, I was able to email Dave and advise him of our change of plans, although he was already watching us via our gps SPOT transmitter, and he was just relieved to know that we were okay.  No engine problems all the way home, but we were glad that the transports were completed, as it was time for that plane to receive some TLC and attention by her mechanics!

Thanks to Northwest Animal Companions for finding homes for these seven lovely small dogs, to Simply Cats for taking in all 46 of these cats and finding homes for them, and as always to Cat House for making the saving of all of these lives possible.  Special thanks also to Cat House for paying for all of the fuel costs and our motel for this transport!  It took many people to accomplish this enormous combined rescue, but what a wonderful thing to have saved the lives of seven dogs and 51 cats!  Thank you for letting us be a part of such good work.

Enjoy the photos and videos, and special thanks to Kelley of Northwest Animal Companions for the great videos of our superstar seven dogs --  Gracie and her two pups Gunter and Gaston, Gwen and Georgina, Vida the chocolate chihuahua, and our superstar lap dog Spam!

Here are videos and photos of the adventure.  Videos are of our arrival with the 46 cats in Boise, Idaho, and we also have a heartwarming video of the seven lucky, very very happy dogs after their arrival in Oregon, provided by Kelley of Northwest Animal Companions!  

Here are photos of those lucky seven dogs after they arrived in Oregon!  (Plus two of Spam with Larry and Bonny back in California before our departure.)

Here are photos of the 46 cats who went from Reedley, CA to Boise, ID, and some of the wonderful, devoted lady cat rescuers from Boise.

Finally, here are the five adult cats who could not be adopted, for various reasons such as being FIV-positive, whom we flew back to Cat House on the Kings in California, where they will live out their lives in peace and freedom and the feline heaven we wish all cats could enjoy!Back at Reedley, we were met by a large van, which held as much as our plane -- all 400 pounds of cat food plus the five crated adult cats.