This week I did the most difficult thing in my life: I brought my 13-year-old golden retriever, Megan, home from the intensive-care unit to die. I lay down next to her at her favorite napping spot in the house and my 14-year-old golden, Rocky, her life-long companion, lay on the other side. Despite being gravely ill, Megan knew she was home, knew who we were and even poked her favorite, plush squeak-toy with her nose. I petted and talked to her until the end.
Megan wasn’t the first. I’ve had goldens for more than 20 years and have gone through this with every one. I have always sworn I would never let one of them die alone in a strange place and among strangers, and so far I’ve made good on my word.
Was it difficult? It was worse than having rockets fall around me in Vietnam or going through a door as a deputy with my gun drawn and not knowing if I would walk out. It was the toughest thing I have ever had to do, but Megan was family and that’s what families do.
I cannot fathom how people can drop off their pets at a veterinarian, tell the vet to put them down and then walk out the door. How could you do that to a loyal family member, a pet who has always been there for you and then, in its final hour, you abandon it? It has been said that the true measure of people is how they treat waitresses and dogs. Increasingly, people are abusive to both and it mirrors society.
We have become fractionalized seekers of self-gratification. As Gore Vidal wrote, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” We’ve lost our cultural sense of being part of the great family of life.
If pilots don’t believe mechanics deserve equal pay; if the FAA doesn’t stop thinking of punishment, rather than helping a company succeed safely; if U.S. repair station employees don’t quit believing a European MRO has no right to be in business; if unions don’t stop thinking the Chinese have no right to manufacture aircraft and parts; if airlines don’t stop discounting the need for corporate aviation; and if heavy iron drivers don’t stop thinking that a bush pilot’s Otter has as much right to the runway, then where are we going to be as an industry in 20 years?
Like it or not we are a global economy. More than a billion people in China alone are beginning to yearn for things we Americans have taken for granted. All over the world, even in the most remote places, aviation has taken hold and is shrinking the world. There is precious little difference between an aircraft mechanic in Chicago and one in Shanghai or between a bizjet pilot in Teterboro and one in Nairobi.
Aviation is more than an occupation; it’s a great, extended family. Instead of being dysfunctional, we must learn to respect the rights of others to work in our industry, be paid fairly and help meet the needs of all the citizens of the world. To stay intact and viable, it is vital that we stop trying to diminish or exclude anyone and ask what we can do to make it work for us all.
Yes, change can be painful and some people can be severely affected. We must find ways to help people who have been negatively impacted by change, because we must shed the “us versus them” mentality, recognize our industry is a global family, do the right thing and get on with it. It may be the toughest thing one ever has to do, but that’s what families do.