Mike Melton has an unusual co-pilot. His 96-pound military rescue dog, Zeus, is his constant companion and accompanies Melton on his weekly air commute from Charlottesville to Pulaski where Melton works as the General Manager of HEYtex USA. Melton is a volunteer with PilotsNPaws, an organization where pilots voluntary donate their time and airplane to rescue dogs out of bad situations and get them into loving safe homes. (Danielle Reid/The Patriot)
By DANIELLE REID
If you need a “feel good” story to help counter all the negative media chatter, and kick-off the New Year with a positive, heart-warming tail – then read on.
Recently, I was introduced to an amazing 96-pound German shepherd named Zeus and his rescuer Mike Melton.
Melton, who is the General Manager of HEYtex USA, located in Pulaski is also a private pilot. Each week, Melton and Zeus work in Pulaski, then climb into the cockpit of Melton’s single engine Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft and commute to their home in Charlottesville for the weekend.
While other dogs may celebrate Nation Dress Up Your Pet Day on January 14th by wearing fun or silly costumes or sporting a festive sweater, if Zeus’ best buddy Melton dressed him up, it would probably be in camo.
Zeus was raised and trained to be a working dog, specifically to guard his military handlers and to detect explosives. Initially raised in the Republic of Czechoslovakia as a working dog, he was trained in Holland, learning commands in the Dutch language. Later, Zeus was sent to Germany for additional training where he was acquired by the U.S. Military and assigned to work in Afghanistan in Special OPS, explosive detection. This was a most dangerous job because Zeus was the one who walked in front of the troops to warn them about an enemy or hidden explosives.
Zeus’ next military command was in Mogadishu in Samalia where he and a team of five other military dogs were used to identify threats, sweep buildings and search out explosives. After being left behind, the dogs were eventually rescued and flown back in a U.S. sponsored Gulf Stream jet.
“There were only five kennels on the plane, but Zeus didn’t have to get into a kennel. His rescuers realized he was a ‘love bug’ and let him sit with them in the cockpit. Zeus has never shown aggression or bitten anyone, but he can evaluate people quickly. If he feels there is a threat, he will take a stance to warn us,” explained Melton.
According to Melton, Zeus understands voice and hand signal commands in three languages. Melton jokes that when Zeus goes with him into a store, like the ACE Hardware on Cleburne Blvd., he constantly surveys and sniffs the shelves on each isle. But when they go to a grocery store, Zeus makes an immediate beeline for the meat department.
With his tenure in the U.S. Military completed, Zeus was sent to Dover for quarantine where his profile was posted on the Patriot K9 Rescue website. That’s where Melton and his significant other, Ann Bolger, found Zeus. Patriot K9 Rescue is a non profit organization that raises funds to care for retired Military Working Dogs, Contract Working Dogs and Retired Police K9’s.
After reading the profiles of Zeus and his five canine companions, Melton called Patriot K9 Rescue to adopt Zeus but was told, “You and about 2,000 others want him.” Because Melton is a pilot and has his own plane, he responded that he could be there the next day.
“Our initial meeting happened really fast,” said Melton. “Zeus is intimidating looking. He is big and has a serious look.”
In fact, that intimidating look probably saved Melton’s life. He recalls, “We were walking in the rain on a woodsy trail and turned a corner, almost walking into a black bear. As the bear stood up on its hind legs – and he was a big bear – Zeus stepped in front of me. With the confidence of a Davey Crocket, Zeus stared down the bear which walked away without harming us.”
Melton and Bolger have two other rescue German shepherds, Lola and Vadar, who have gone through basic obedience training.
As a Pilots N Paws volunteer, Melton can check the database where pilots are informed of pet rescues. That is where he found Vadar who was a street dog in California. Volunteer Pilots can access that database, inform and request other pilots to assist in a rescue – or volunteer to fly the rescue themselves.
Lola was a private rescue from a family in Iowa who could no longer keep her. When Melton discovered her dilemma, he informed Ann who was driving back from a meeting in Kansas City. Ann stopped and picked up Lola on the way home.
Melton and Zeus have been inseparable for the past several years. Melton says Zeus sleeps with them and often sighs of joy escape as he lays his head on their pillows. Perhaps Zeus is dreaming of his glory days when he was parachuted out of a Black Hawk helicopter and kept his troops safe. Or maybe he is just breathing a sigh of contentment to be retired and loved by his human family.
Other rescue organizations with which Melton is affiliated as a volunteer pilot are Animal Rescue & K9 Charities (ARK Charities) which is an independent boutique-rescue organization dedicated to Animal Welfare & Education. ARK was created to rescue animals in need and to rehabilitate, heal and rehome dogs into carefully screened, loving forever homes where they become valued family members and assist the people who love and need them.
Redemption Rescue is the rescue program Ark Charities has acquired. It’s mission is to rescue animals from desperate situations and high kill shelters, where every year millions of animals are euthanized across the country. We are committed to rescuing, and rehabilitating, German Shepherds and other dogs. We find them safe and loving forever homes.
Melton is also a volunteer pilot for Mercy Medical, doing “Angel Flights” for people. The volunteer pilots of Mercy Medical donate their time and aircraft so patients in need can reach their lifesaving care at no cost.
Maybe Zeus isn’t the only hero in the family!