Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sky's the limit: Dog's bucket list puts focus on animal issues

DANVILLE —Without hesitation, Charlie Waggles stepped onto the wing of the Piper Cherokee 140 and bounded into his spot behind the pilot. For an 8-year-old on his first flight, he showed no fear.

“He’s ready to go! His tail’s just a-going,” foster mom Misty Hueston said.

Hueston and others watched as the plane took off at the Vermilion Regional Airport, fulfilling one item on the dog’s bucket list — to ride in a plane.

Charlie, an American Staffordshire terrier, is terminally ill with aggressive melanoma. His foster family came up with a 25-item list of experiences he should have.

His bucket-list items range from silly to serious.

Mainly, the dog and his humans want to raise awareness about animal issues and the need for foster families through the Vermilion County Animal Shelter and its foundation.

“It’s about awareness, bringing people together,” Hueston, a shelter volunteer, said about the bucket list. “Charlie gets to benefit from it all, which is awesome.”


On Friday, Charlie checked off another item — thanks to Mike Gerdes, a volunteer with Pilots N Pets rescue service, who flew in from Indianapolis. Gerdes brought along a bag filled with goodies, including a blanket, toys and a first-flight certificate, all put together by his wife, Marilee.

Charlie also received a red bandanna featuring Snoopy as the Red Baron.

It didn’t take any coaxing for Charlie to get into the plane, along with Jeff Clawson, whose wife, Melanie, is volunteer coordinator at the county shelter, and the pilot. For about 20 minutes, the three flew over Vermilion County.

Upon landing, Charlie seemed happy to be on the ground and headed toward the airport office.

Gerdes said the dog did great, and just looked out the window. Speaking to Charlie, he said, “You were a good co-pilot. I saw you at my shoulder.”

Gerdes, who has flown about 100 dogs, said after the first excitement, they usually settle down and go to sleep. The noise bothers a few, and then Gerdes has doggy earmuffs for them.

“You are the most laid-back dude I’ve seen in a long time,” he told Charlie.


Through Charlie’s bucket list, Hueston wants the community to know: pit bulls are not a bad breed, older animals still have a lot of life, hospice care is available, and foster homes and volunteers are always needed.

“I could take him home and spoil him rotten,” Hueston said, “but I wanted to raise awareness about hospice and foster homes.”

People can help Charlie meet the goals on his bucket list (see the accompanying list), and help other shelter dogs at the same time.

Charlie was surrendered by his family, and came to the shelter in November. In December, the staff noticed masses under his leg and underneath his body.

He was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma. The tumors were removed; chemotherapy was not recommended.

The Vermilion County Animal Shelter Foundation covered the medical costs.

The shelter does not adopt out sick animals, so Charlie went into foster care with Hueston.

He’s not in pain, Hueston said, and still plays like a puppy, although he tires easily. She doesn’t know his prognosis, but believes he’ll live beyond a year.

Of course, he’s being spoiled at the Hueston home with her rescue dog and children.


One of Charlie’s goals is to have a birthday party, and that’s going to happen from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, in the adoption center at the Village Mall. Pet-friendly cake will be served at 1:30 p.m.

There will be party hats and cupcakes for children, as well as treats for cats. Guests may bring presents (optional) for Charlie, which will be donated to the animal shelter.

Kongs (treat-dispensing dog toys) especially are needed, but Hueston said the blue toys are stronger than the red ones. People also could donate Simply Jif peanut butter, which doesn’t contain xylitol, a sweetener that’s harmful to dogs. The peanut butter is inserted into the Kong, and the dog is kept busy trying to remove it.

One of Charlie’s bucket list items is to get 500 hugs — and the party is a good place to start.

Also at the party, adoptable dogs and cats from the county shelter will be available. People also may make donations to the foundation, which will be used to help other animals needing medical procedures.


Charlie’s list started with a couple of simple ideas, but then it took on a life of its own.

Charlie has met some of the goals, such as eating a hamburger, celebrating New Year’s, visiting residents at a nursing home and now the plane ride.

To meet his goal of being served at a bar, he’ll get a drink of water at Fatman’s Warehouse. Charlie also wants to go on a blind date, and has had several offers.

At 5 p.m. EST Jan. 28, he’ll realize his dream of visiting a beach when he goes to the Sand Bar, an indoor beach, in Covington, Ind.

Also, he wants to kiss a queen — which would be Katie Brown, the Vermilion County Fair queen.

Another dream is to watch “All Dogs Go to Heaven” on an outdoors screen, and to get arrested, which means riding in a police car or visiting a jail cell.

People have been chipping in to help Charlie reach his goals, Hueston said, adding, “I’m blown away by the strength of the animal community around here.”


Diana Bryant, president of the Vermilion County Animal Shelter Foundation, said there’s a big need for foster families, who take care of an animal until he can be adopted.

“Good fosters are hard to find,” Bryant said. Other pets in the home must be current on their shots, and the foundation will make home visits.

The foundation provides a crate, bed, medical care, toys, grooming and food (although most foster parents pay for their own food).

“There’s no money out of their pocket unless they choose to do so,” she said.

Hueston, a volunteer for a year, is passionate about helping animals. She adopted a dog that had been neglected and injured, and the pet has bonded well with Charlie.

While she’s had her share of heartaches, there are successes, too — such as the time a dog headed for euthanasia was adopted at the very last minute.

“It’s moments like that when you see God’s hand come into play,” she said.


• Learn more at:

His birthday party will be 1-4 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Village Mall.

• To donate, volunteer or become a foster parent, call the Vermilion County Animal Shelter, 431-2660.

Information and applications also are available from noon to 4 p.m. on the first and second Saturdays (and the fifth, when there is one) at the Village Mall.

• To help Charlie with his bucket list, send a messsage on his Facebook page or Misty Mockbee Hueston’s Facebook page, or call the animal shelter, and ask for Melanie Clawson, volunteer coordinator.

• Checks should be made out to the Vermilion County Animal Shelter Foundation (make sure “foundation” is in the name).

The shelter is in desperate need of wet food for underweight animals or those on medication.


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