Wings for Greyhound's own Maggie McCurry and Lanky Lance are on the February 2002 cover of the nationally known aviation magazine "America's Flyways". Pages 18 - 21 of the magazine focus on Wings For Greyhounds and their mission in flying greys to their new homes. With permission from America's Flyways we have included the article below. Copies of this edition of America's Flyways can be obtained with a check for $4.25 sent to:
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Maggie and Lanky Lance
Photo courtesy of America's Airways
To receive a copy of this edition of America's Flyways send a check for $4.25 to:
2637 E Air Lane
Phoenix, AZ 85034
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Greyhound Guardian Angel by Marilyn Malone
(Used with permission by America's Flyways)
Engine sounds make morning music as airplanes take off and land at Sedona's mesa-top field. Sparkling Arizona sunlight warms Maggie McCurry's hands as she checks off the last items on her pre-trip checklist. Maggie is making sure that her high-winged Partenavia is ready for the next flight, which could be prompted at any minute by an excited phone call asking for her help. The fuel tanks are full, the windshield is clean, and the tires are inflated. Of course she'll check the instruments and controls after start-up, but now she's verifying that the passenger section is outfitted: four blankets, three quilts, two pillows, and four cushions. These items are an essential part of Maggie's gear, along with a collection of leashes.
Leashes? Maggie doesn't know how many airport visitors have peered into the rear windows of her Italian-made blue and white twin, and wondered what was up. By way of explanation, when she encounters curious folk on the tarmac, she smiles and points to the blue lettering on her sweatshirt: "Wings for Greyhounds" and "1-888-4WE-FLY'M." Although Maggie doesn't exactly wear her passion on her sleeve, she does wear it over her heart. The name and a graceful line logo of a greyhound with wings appears on this and other clothing that her non-profit company uses to raise awareness and money for greyhound adoptions.
Flying to the Future
"We are airborne transport of retired racing greyhounds, "Maggie says as she wraps her left arm around friend and co-pilot Mark Pettijohn and with the right hand, rubs Mission Commander Lanky Lance's sleek head. The greyhound's stance is regal and confident, the breed's characteristic pose.
Wings for Greyhounds could fly every day of the year, say Maggie and Mark. There are 46 greyhound racing tracks in the United States with about 45,000 dogs in the racing system at one time. An average racing career is two years; greyhounds can live up to 14 years. The end of a racing career can be the beginning of an uncertain future. Of the approximately 26,500 greyhounds that left the system in year 2000, about 13,000 were adopted. The Tucson greyhound racing industry alone retires about 800 dogs a year.
While Lanky Lance, who raced at Tucson Greyhound Park from 1989 to 1994, curls up on his own cushion just inside the hangar door, Maggie explains how she got into this. The tall, exuberant blonde reveals her country of origin in phrases like, "a right little pip," and in the lilt of her voice, though it's somewhat modified by years in California and the Southwest.
Maggie came from England to Los Angeles with a young woman's typical Hollywood dream. She summarizes what happened. "As an actress I made a great waitress!"
Another dream was to fly. That she did, starting instruction at Burbank, California, then working her way through the private, commercial, multiengine, and instrument ratings. Maggie likes IFR procedures. "On an IFR approach to Burbank I realized that I was totally happy!" Maggie doesn't like steep turns. "The worst part of the commercial check ride was that 60 degree bank. I'm the princess of the 15 degree turn!"
One day, while sipping tea and watching take-offs and landings at the Van Nuys airport observation area, Maggie noticed a tall, dark, good-looking man. "He walked up and asked me, 'Do you like airplanes?'" That was Mark, and they've been flying together ever since. When they met, Maggie says, "We had too many airplanes (a Bonanza and a Dakota) but the right number of engines (two)." They bought a Travelair. Their flying future was determined when Maggie, interested in adopting a greyhound, went to a "meet and greet" event in a San Fernando Valley pet store. She asked the organizers, "I have an airplane. I may be crazy but can I help?"
Long intrigued by the design and utility of the Partenavia, they bought N73N in 1998. Maggie laughs. "After all, what are home equity loans for? Now we have a 1200 sq. ft. condo and an 1800 sq. ft. hangar." Although the airplane is supposed to be a seven-seater, "They must be talking about those compact Italians," says Maggie, "But large dogs fit real well." Maggie pats the airplane whose rear windows are decorated with greyhound "nose paintings."
Maggie doesn't fly solo when an animal is in the airplane. After take-off she relies on a copilot (either Mark or a volunteer) to monitor the dogs' conditions. "Animals are the most stressed at the time the pilot is the busiest," explains Maggie. "The co-pilot can reach back to the animals on the floor of the plane&emdash;Mark removed the middle seats; talking and petting reassures the dogs. And, since I'm not up for adventures in aviation, I don't fly in bad weather. Live animals are enough of a variable&emdash;we don't want to be untangling dogs in the clouds. I figure if the dogs fall asleep I'm doing well!"
Using common sense and information provided by each dog's rescue handlers, Mark and Maggie have carried greyhounds for several years without an airborne incident. They take Lance on many flights where he barks admonitions to the guests from the rear seat; his tone alerts the flight crew to any problems. Mark and Maggie admit to having thrown a used chart or two at Lance to discourage so much "communication." Maggie kneels beside their assistant. He responds with a lick. "He's earned his title of Mission Commander. Most of our passengers simply curl up and settle down after the plane levels off, acting like the Partenavia is a really nice dog trailer."
Maggie points out that many rescue organizations are small and totally staffed by volunteers. She compares a 6-hour drive to a new home in California to the 2-hour flight that Wings can provide, helping both the dogs and the volunteers.
The Partenavia's fuel capacity is 148 gallons usable. An average trip uses about 22-25 gallons per hour. A fully loaded instrument panel is Maggie's joy.
Marlie's Odyssey Among their many rescue flights, the trip they call "Marlie's Odyssey" has touched them the most.
The 8-month old Oklahoma greyhound, named Marlie by her trainer, was destined for destruction after her tongue stuck on a frozen water bowl and had to be partially amputated, compromising her feeding ability. Friends of Greyhounds took her in and put an adoption notice on their web page. Maggie remembers. "The vet said she wouldn't live long, but Marlie didn't hear that! With half a tongue, Marlie learned to drink.she blew bubbles and sucked up the water. She picked up soft food, then leaned her head back to swallow, just like a bird."
Ten months later, a Seattle woman called to ask about adopting the resourceful dog. Maggie and Mark decided "If we get the loan and if we get the plane we'll take Marlie to Seattle." So, on their first flight in the Partenavia, the couple flew from collecting the airplane in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Tulsa. There Marlie settled in the back as if she knew she was safe. They landed in Tucson where volunteers from the Greyhound Adoption League took care of Marlie overnight, then brought them two greyhound passengers for delivery in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Petsmart Charities donated $1000.00 for expenses and fuel. The next day, newspaper and television reporters and Puget Sound Greyhound Adoption volunteers greeted them at Seattle's Boeing Field. Boeing Business Jets filled up the tanks for free. After 18 hours of flying, Marlie was home.
Maggie says, "Marlie's rescue took so many people and so much effort. We were just the instruments. It was meant to be."
A Special Service
Traveling by air provides a particular benefit to acutely injured dogs like Excaliber Zee, whose jaw and leg were broken when he bit the fast-moving lure during training. Saving Zee from hours of jostling in a dog trailer, Maggie and Mark flew from Sedona, collected the dog after his emergency surgery in Tucson, and flew him to Phoenix where volunteers from Fast Dogs-Fast Friends rushed him to an animal hospital. Now he's giving and receiving love in his new family.
Concerned people all over the country have organized to provide health care and homes for greyhound racing "retirees" Some, like Excaliber Zee and Marlie, need medical attention to survive; others just need a loving home. Tucson's Greyhound Adoption League founder and president Lorri Tracy says of Maggie, "If we need her, she's there---she'll just do it!" Lorri's organization, like most adoption groups, has a web site to inform the public about racing greyhounds and the continuing need for adoptive families.
Lanky Lance was one of those whose future was uncertain until Mark and Maggie adopted him. He, like most adopted greyhounds, thrives on attention and human companionship. Of the brindle's personality, Maggie says, "God made Lance and then he ran out of sugar." Mark adds, "He saw us and decided 'I can work these folks!'"
Wings for Greyhounds currently flies every couple of weeks. "As long as we have funds, we fly," says Maggie. Mark co-pilots when he is not at his regular job flying freight for a commercial enterprise.
Maggie and Mark agree that one of the primary benefits of Wings for Greyhounds is the publicity their efforts bring to the greyhound adoption movement. Media attention provides them with many contacts. They can tell when Animal Planet segments "Amazing Tails", "Wild Rescues", and "Petstory" have aired because they get 12-20 calls as well as emails from all over the world. Two shows on PBS bring other inquiries. Wings for Greyhounds was included in an article that appeared in the August 2000 issue of McCall's Magazine article. A FoxLA production featured in-cockpit views of Maggie and greyhounds flying to the melodies of "I Believe I Can Fly."
In this time of some skepticism about general aviation, Maggie and Mark are happy their flights emphasize a positive image of general aviation, showing how it can be used for good in the community.
Wings for Greyhounds has flown for the Greyhound Adoption League, Arizona Greyhound Rescue, Greyhound Rescue of the Red Rocks, Retired Racers Greyhound Rescue and Adoption, The Greyhound Connection, and others. Landings are frequently attended by local media, another plus for greyhounds and general aviation.
In October 2001, at home base Sedona Airport, more than a dozen adopted racers came to support the Wings For Greyhounds exhibit at Sedona Airport Day. The two available greyhounds that Wings brought from Tucson were adopted. Applications to Sedona's Greyhound Rescue of the Red Rocks organization have since led to other local adoptions.
Maggie and Mark will continue to fly greyhounds as long as they can. They would like to set up chapters elsewhere with volunteer pilots. Maggie hopes for regional coordination, "so we can say 'Yes!' to all the requests." So far, Wings for Greyhounds is the only company in the world devoted exclusively to greyhound rescue flights.
The breed's lithe physique and aerodynamic look may have prompted the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine to say of the greyhounds he kept in the early 17th century, "these are not dogs, but four-legged birds."
Maggie McCurry is ready to fly with them.
And Of Course..... WE'LL KEEP ON FLYING GREYHOUNDS!