Flying with man’s best friend
Salt Lake City, Utah
By Jim Urquhart
Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz once said, “All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”
For me there is a simple truth in that statement. I have many failings and weaknesses that I am continually trying to learn from. Some I am just learning to accept, new ones get pointed out daily by others. That is just me. But I have the privilege of owning and caring for a dog.
Spending time with most dogs you will probably find they want nothing more than to be close to you and be at your side as you experience the world. Food, water and loving attention is all you need to provide to win a dog’s heart. It is a simple price. But the admission into their hearts is worth more than their weight in gold.
Dan McManus is a professional paragliding and hang gliding instructor in Utah. He has been flying for about 37 years and he can be found most days catching the breeze at the flight park on a mountain ridge at the south end of the Salt Lake valley. However, in recent years he has also been joined on many flights by his service dog Shadow. McManus suffers from a general anxiety disorder but manages to keep many of the symptoms in check with the constant companionship of his Australian cattle dog. While flying in itself has been a calming pursuit he soon found out that his service dog never wanted to be away from him (a bit of separation anxiety for Shadow).
McManus said he would often come home from flying to find that Shadow had scratched up the doors and floors while he was away. At the flight park Shadow could run but was often times on the ground chasing him from below as he made his flights. Shadow has even been to known to try to hold onto McManus’ boots with his teeth in order to get in the air. “It felt like he wanted to keep me safe.”
As a dog owner I can completely understand that. My Australian cattle dog mix, Chica, has been known to stand guard at the base of the cliff and keep people away from my belay partner or the rock itself as I rock climb. When I am on the ground, people are free to come and go as they please. But the moment I start climbing she is on watch.
With Shadow wanting nothing more than to be with him, about nine years ago McManus had a specialty harness made from the skin of a durable duffle bag and the two have been flying together since. Incidentally, Shadow was originally named Bandit but the name was quickly changed after it became apparent he did want to leave McManus’ side. Seeing the two fly together can easily be described as therapy for them both. McManus said the experience “resonated” with the two of them, “you just don’t get bored. There are so many aspects to it.”
On this assignment, since there was no way you were going to get me off the ground, I decided to try using two GoPro cameras. I have never used them for work. In fact, my only real experience with them was shooting some boring video while snowboarding or rock climbing from my helmet. We were able to mount two cameras, one directly in front of the two and one next to Shadow’s shoulder. Then the cameras were set to take photos every second. I really had no clue what I captured with the cameras until I got the memory cards downloaded. At which point, after finding several frames I liked out of the thousands taken, I sent a profanity filled text message to one of the editors briefly explaining how happy I was with the results.
Dogs seem to know just what we need at times. Before Chica, I had the privilege of raising Gizmo, an Australian Shepherd, for about 10 years before he passed away due to illness. And just like Shadow is there for McManus, Gizmo knew when I needed him most and was always at my side. To me it makes perfect sense for Shadow to be strapped in under the wing. The two genuinely looked happy for each other as they made laps over a mountain ridge. Upon landing McManus was showered with affection and kisses from Shadow.
The two are sharing in an experience that would be unique on its own, but is made more special by the bond they have together. “This is home. He would rather be here than anywhere else. This is his freedom,” McManus said.