How Can Dogs Really Fly?
Dogs really can fly. They've actually been doing it for years with a bit of human help. Earlier this week one of the National Geographic Adventurers of the Year Dean Potter released a video of his dog, Whisper, flying.
Whisper is a 4-year-old mini Australian cattle dog and has accompanied Dean on many of his climbing adventures. Whisper now has about a dozen wingsuit BASE jumps to her name. But how ethical is taking a dog BASE jumping? While it's ok for some humans to risk their own lives, understanding the dangers involved, is forcing this upon an animal who is unaware, taking things too far?
Last year I won the ProBASE World Cup Istanbul Showdown, I have countless wingsuit BASE jumps and I'm the proud owner of 2 fantastic terriers. For the last 2 1/2 years I've been contemplating a plan to take one of my dogs BASE jumping with me.
To take a dog BASE jumping without considering the ethical issues would be foolish. Fortunately, my wife is a small animal Veterinarian. She also has a bachelors degree that majored in animal behaviour. Our different areas of expertise combine to allow us to have in-depth conversations and analyse the ethical dilemma from all angles. In researching this subject we realised that the considerations break down into two simple issues: can these jumps be undertaken while ensuring the physical safety of both human and dog, and are there psychological aspects that would negatively affect the dog?
Essentially, this aspect is simple. Dogs have gone skydiving and even BASE jumping before - a google search will show you quite an array of pictures. The military has taken dogs into a variety of precarious operational situations and have done so safely.
Can the activity be performed safely? BASE jumping and wingsuit BASE jumping carry inherent risks. Driving a car also carries inherent risks. Cars can be driven safely or recklessly and a seasoned driver with considerable experience can minimise this risk in comparison with a teenage driver on his first time behind the wheel. Risks can be mitigated and I have no doubt that BASE jumps and wingsuit BASE jumps can be mitigated to an acceptable level - I have done so on countless ocassions. These flights can be done responsibly and within a safe envelope.
Does the addition of the animal add additional safety concerns? Absolutely. With added complication and therefore increased complexity, there is more to deal with. But with training and test jumps this can all be mitigated and new systems integrated into the flight process. In fact, Dean designed a completely new BASE rig and carried out a variety of test jumps before Whisper even got near the process.
My dogs have accompanied me on many BASE jumping trips. From the ground they've learned to recognise me once my canopy opens and sprint to the landing area to meet me. They absolutely love it.
Of course, all dogs are different. They have complex needs and, like humans, we should take measures to minimise their stress levels. Dogs are pack animals. As we continue to domesticate them, the packs become their families - a domesticated mix of humans and animals.
Our dogs love being with my wife and I and they trust us implicitly. In particular, Scooter, our fluffy white mongrel terrier is an adventurer at heart. He loves life beyond belief. He has no fear, just trust that his parents (my wife and I) will look after him. Physically and mentally he's in good shape - a healthy dog. I have no doubt that he would love to come BASE jumping with me. If I take this to the next level he will be the first dog that I jump with.
There are a number of critics jumping on the band wagon, questioning Dean's motives. Yet Dean is a dog lover. He wants nothing better for his dog than for her to be happy and to live a long and fulfilling life. He is a safe wingsuit pilot that is skilled enough to mitigate the risks and undertake these activities repeatedly.
For the naysayers, how many of you have actually undertaken a wingsuit BASE jump and so truly understand what is involved? How many of you are also dog owners? And, given that all dogs are indeed different, how many of you have actually met Whisper?
For years our dogs have enjoyed hiking with us to the exit point. Is joining us on the flight down the next step in this evolution? The debate is on-going but I dream of a time when I too can share the joy of flight with my dog.
Is there a limit? Let me know what you think in the comments below.