Goal: Eternally House – Flagstaff Enterprise Information

Volunteer pilots transporting rescue dogs to a better life.

One puppy was badly burned and needed immediate medical attention, according to urgent online mail.

It was Saturday morning, March 6th. Recently retired American Airlines Boeing 787 captain David Weeks was at home in Flagstaff, enjoying the sound of the breeze through the pine trees on this unusually warm winter day as he read the message on the Pilot N & # 39; Paws discussion forum. The six or seven month old puppy had been stabilized in a small remote clinic but needed an emergency flight to Scottsdale for extensive long-term treatment.

"I can answer at 12 and be in Shiprock by 1," he thought.

And with that, he and his four-seater Cirrus SR22T were on their way to the lonely runway in northwest New Mexico that has become a familiar landing place. "They don't have a control tower. You just look both ways and go."

Weeks, a seasoned pilot who has spent much of his career in Phoenix, is used to flying commercial passengers to international airports in Europe, Asia and South America. These days he's excited to be piloting a small airplane again.

"I missed it," he explained. "I got into general aviation, was a flight instructor, flew an air taxi, worked for an ambulance in the 1980s, and was a demonstration pilot for Gates Learjet."

Weeks is part of a network of volunteer pilots connected online through Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit that coordinates transportation requests for animals in need. He retired in October after flying for 34 years. “I knew retirement was coming and we (David and his wife Nancy) were talking about buying a light aircraft. We wanted to fly voluntarily and already knew about the organization. "

Quite different than flying "for the 500th time" to JFK International Airport in New York or "being number 27 for takeoff in Dallas / Fort Worth on a Friday afternoon during rush hour," says Weeks, it was a nice one A change from flying to smaller airports in the US Four Corners Region near places like Rifle, Colorado, Park City, Utah or Wickenburg.

"David needs to research ahead of time to find out which canyons he can fly through without climbing the peaks of the mountains," said Nancy, who often accompanies him on those flights to Shiprock to collect the precious cargo and then to locations the other side start the southwest, where shelter volunteers wait for delivery. "Your lungs may not be developed," she explains of the rescue pups they are transporting. "We don't want to get them over 10,000 feet because the plane isn't under pressure. We need to protect those little lungs and ears."

Puppies and pregnant mother dogs are frequent customers, as are dogs between the ages of 1 and 2. Affectionately known as Rez Dogs, most are descendants of working dogs from sheep camps. "We're getting a lot of herding dogs – great Pyrenees, huskies, shepherds, heels – they'll never get purebred," said Hannah Browning, who volunteers for Turquoise Paw Rescue, an animal rescue operation and transfer hub that serves the Navajo nation. "If someone adopts you and does a DNA test to see what type of dog it is, it's a mix of five to 50 different breeds. You never know what you're going to get."

Yvonne Todacheene and her husband Izzy A. have been rescuing reserve animals and operating Turquoise Paw for more than a decade. "We started with just a few animals in 2006, but at the time there was no place to really take them in," she said. "I only started keeping records of the animals we rescued in 2014. The records from 2014-2019 show that we saved nearly 10,000 animals during that period. In 2020 we decided it was time to Applying for 501c (3) status since Hannah came on board and was able to help with the arduous task of getting the animals out. "

Last year, Turquoise Paw rescued, cared for or transported 3,048 animals from the reserve to a new life. So far this year around 1,150 animals have been processed.

Todacheene and Browning may drive hundreds of miles a week to save animals – mostly canines. They usually pick up boxes of puppies or kittens that have been left on the side of the road or at a gas station. Sometimes they get calls that a dog has been hit by a car and is alone and injured on the side of the road, or that a woman gave birth to a litter in a hole she dug from a dumpster. Sometimes their condition is severe or advanced, such as an extreme infestation of botflies. Difficult decisions must be made with limited resources.

“These dogs live in packs. They are very dog ​​friendly. Often times they have never been touched by people, never been in a vehicle, never been in, or bowl-fed, "said Browning. Even so, she says, most of them make loving pets.

The problem of homeless dogs is as massive and complex as the ancient rock monuments that characterize the reserve. There are only two or three vets serving the entire Navajo nation, Browning says, and given the high poverty rate, most families cannot afford medical expenses for their pets. "It's unrealistic for them to pay the veterinary bills. A lot of nonprofits do these clinics. Soul Dog Rescue drives down from Fort Lupton almost every week and castrates or castrates 70 to 150 animals over a weekend. They do it, we do it and others do it, but the waiting list we have is over 400 names. Soul Dogs is over 1,000. Dogs can have two or three more litters before we get to them at the speed we're going, "she said." We need funding, vets, and facilities. There is a great shortage of resources. "

Todacheene is grateful for the Navajo Nation's chapter houses and various churches and businesses that allow clinics to use their facilities for spay and neuter locations. She bases the philosophy of Turquoise Paw Rescue on the Navajo culture's belief that the people of Dine are stewards of all living beings – the earth and all living beings.

Neither Todacheene nor Browning receive a paycheck for their work or reimbursement for gasoline in their vehicles. Todacheene is a caretaker. Browning is an event coordinator who works remotely nights and weekends. They both care for the animals until they can take them to a shelter or home forever. At her residence in Farmington, Browning takes in the "bottle babies" who are too young to feed themselves. Sometimes it's an entire litter that their personal rescue dogs don't seem to mind. Todacheene brings the rest to what has come to be known as "The Farm", her land in Shiprock, where she has about 15 outdoor kennels.

"The animals are safe, warm, and fed until we can get them to a safer, better place," Browning said. But sometimes that never happens and the tasks are overwhelming. The women regularly coordinate with 70 to 100 emergency shelters and around 10 to 15 pilots. “Everyone meets the Turquoise Paw volunteers at Shiprock Airport. Sometimes we're the only plane, sometimes there are three or four others, ”said David.

David and Nancy Weeks fly in once a week with a mostly empty hull and fly out with boxes full of dogs. "We had 15 at most, with several pups in some boxes," said Nancy. “Usually they are very quiet on the flight. I think they are scared, "added David. "They may moan for a while, but then they seem to go catatonic."

Turquoise Paw hosted its first spay and neuter clinic last month. In four days, volunteer vets operated on 178 dogs and cats and administered 1,500 vaccinations. One hundred and one animals were taken to rescue homes. The services were offered for free and paid for with $ 4,000 in donations raised through a GoFundMe page.

"We do what we do because we love animals and are passionate about animals," Browning said.

David and Nancy are animal lovers too and have their own rescue dogs. "It's very hard not to want to take the Rez Dogs home with you," said Nancy, who retired from a career in investment management. "It's so fun, the dogs are so cute, and it's great to know that they will have better lives."

"We are able to do this as a charitable contribution, and I love flying light aircraft. It's all about the perfect community service," said David, who also works at Angel Flight, an emergency human transportation network, and LightHawk, Involved in a nonprofit environmental protection organization that requires aerial photography.

"I'm so proud of David," said Nancy. "Within a month of retiring, he found a way to combine his love of flying with something meaningful."

And that "burning baby," as Browning once called him, is now passing Sage. “The doctor says he eats and wags his tail and the fluids help him a lot. The vet staff fell in love with him, ”Browning reassured Turquoise Paw followers on Facebook. "Sage's vet bill is still very expensive. We know he's worth it, but we could really use the help with his expensive treatments."

To make a donation to Turquoise Paw, visit the Facebook page at or send a check to Turquoise Paw Rescue, P.O. Box 4707, Shiprock, NM 87420. FBN

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

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