7 min read

Old Sick Dog Transforms When Pilot Flies Her To Her Last Home

"I never would have imagined finding something so satisfying, so rewarding, that it would eclipse most all else of my time on this Earth."

Ashlyn was an old dog at a shelter in North Carolina — and she really wasn't doing well.

She'd dropped a ton of weight and she suffered from sarcomas — cancerous tumors under her skin. Yet it wasn't too late for her to have a stroke of luck.

When people at the New England Humane Society (NEHS) discovered someone with a perfect home where Ashlyn could spend the last few weeks of her life, she just needed a way to get there. So Paul Steklenski, founder of Flying Fur Animal Rescue (FFAR), decided to fly her up in his plane. 

Pilot flying old dog to fospice
Flying Fur Animal Rescue

As he flew the plane with Ashlyn in the seat beside him, Steklenski started getting emotional thinking about how this might be her last ride anywhere.

Even though he's used to flying needy dogs to rescues so they can get the homes they deserve — he usually transports about 15 to 30 dogs per month — the senior dogs particularly pull at Steklenski's heartstrings. "Those are the ones where you focus even more on what they're going through," Steklenski told The Dodo. 

Pilot flies old dog to fospice
Flying Fur Animal Rescue/Facebook

At the beginning of the two-hour ride, Ashlyn was a bit hesitant. "She started off a little bit distant," Steklenski said. "Then she would kind open up a bit, and she got closer."

The dog biscuits he fed her definitely helped her feel more comfortable. "Then she gave me one paw and then the other," he said.

Old Dog looking out the window of plane
Flying Fur Animal Rescue
Pilot flying senior dog Ashlyn to fospice
Flying Fur Animal Rescue

"Then she laid her head on my lap," Steklenski said. "To me, that’s huge. That’s all that matters. That’s the reward in itself."

Old dog getting flown to fospice
Flying Fur Animal Rescue

Steklenski decided to take up flying as a hobby in 2013, when he also happened to adopt a dog. These things were unrelated at the time — but soon they became inextricably linked. 

“We went to pet stores and then we went to shelters, and started to learn the difference,” Steklenski told The Dodo last year. And when he realized just how many needed animals there are in shelters, he decided to put his new hobby to good use.

Old dog getting flown to fospice
Flying Fur Animal Rescue

If it weren't for him, Ashlyn wouldn't be where she is now. And while everyone believed they were bringing her to fospice, her recovery so far has made rescuers think she may have more time left than anyone thought. 

Senior dog flown to fospice in New England
Tracy Lander

"When I picked her up from the airport, her condition destroyed me," Tracy Lander, who has three dogs of her own and has been fostering dogs for the NEHS for two years, told The Dodo. "She was down to 39 pounds — her ideal weight is between 65 and 70. She came to me with a sweater on — when I took it off, I could see every rib." 

Lander started feeding Ashlyn three times a day to get her weight back up. She also gave her supplements to help her cope with her multiple health problems, from her skin troubles (believed to be caused by chemical burns) to her tumors. 

Fospice senior dog with foster mom
Tracy Lander
Foster dog kisses foster mom
Tracy Lander

Soon, Ashlyn started to transform a bit. "She’s getting around more," Lander said. "She’s a great eater ... and she’s very attached to me."

Senior dog snuggling foster brother
Tracy Lander

Ashlyn has even taken to snuggling up to Angel, one of Lander's other dogs. And Xander, Lander's boxer mix, has also become interested in bonding with Ashlyn. "He’ll go up to Ashlyn and just start licking her," Lander said. "He thinks he can heal everybody with his tongue."

Senior dog in pink sweater
Tracy Lander

Ashlyn came to live with the Landers in January, and no one knew how much time she'd have. Now that it's April, they aren't thinking of her as the fospice dog, just someone who reminds them to live in the present and treasure every day — that's always a good lesson anyway.

"She knows she’s loved," Lander said. "Whatever happens she knows she’s loved."

Senior dog in foster home
Tracy Lander

The day Ashlyn boarded Steklenski's plane, no one imagined she'd make such huge strides. She went from an exhausted shelter dog to part of a loving family — and that's exactly why Steklenski does what he does.

"I never would have imagined finding something so satisfying, so rewarding, that it would eclipse most all else of my time on this Earth," Steklenski added.

Fospice senior dog with other dogs
Ashlyn with her new friends at her foster home | Tracy Lander
To help other dogs get the love they deserve, you can make a donation to Flying Fur Animal Rescue or New England Humane Society