Learning to Fly with Tala
Story and Photos Contributed by Ruffwear Ambassador Becca Bredehoft
It’s been just over a year since we scooped up our little desert wolf from a rescue in Arizona.
She’s a rez dog. We don’t know much about her early life, except that she came from a shelter on the Navajo Nation Reservation before landing with United Animal Friends in Prescott, AZ. I found her on the internet. After months of scouring the Western US for a furry friend, she literally crawled into our laps on a windy day in May. Our requirements were pretty simple: we wanted a dog that was past the puppy stage, small but not too small, mixed breed, who would love traveling and adventures. You see, we’re not the typical 30-something couple with a starter home, steady jobs and 2.5 kids. We live in our Sprinter van, roaming the West. We earn our keep in a variety of ways, but mostly as paragliding pilots, taking tourists on tandem flights in Jackson Hole, WY, during the summer. The rest of the year, we’re usually on the road. When we’re not flying our paragliders for work or fun, we’re usually doing some other fun thing outside.
When I saw the photos of her on Petfinder, I just had a feeling. We drove a couple hours out of our way to meet her, and took approximately 20 minutes to sign the adoption papers. She was about a year and a half old, 30 pounds, a mix of fluffy-tail-pointy-eared who-the-heck-knows-what, friendly and energetic, but surprisingly mellow for her age. She loaded right up and hopped onto the front seat as if our Sprinter was the chariot she’d been waiting for. We started our way north and spent our first night with Tala dog at a campground in Torrey, UT. It was my 33rd birthday, and it was freezing cold and raining outside. We made burritos and snuggled this new furry member of our family, wondering who she was, where she’d been, and dreaming of all the adventures that we’d have together. She’s the greatest birthday present I’ve ever gotten.
Since then, Tala has fallen in line with our daily activities. She immediately took to long hikes around Jackson Hole. She loves discovering little patches of leftover snow on summer days in the mountains and smearing her entire body across them. Our almost-daily mountain bike rides involve miles of single track and plenty of rests to plop down in mud puddles to cool off. She learned to wait to chase squirrels until someone unzips the tent door in the morning, and summited her first peak on a girls’ backpacking trip in the Gros Ventre range. She was pretty timid about water at first, but we slowly enticed her into calmer pools on the river on hot days.
By the end of the summer she was swimming in current after sticks and cruising with us on our paddleboards on the Snake. She eventually went on her first multi-day rafting trip through Hell’s Canyon in October. She has showed us around her home turf in the desert, disappearing into the shrubs and cactus when she gets a whiff of jackrabbit in the distance. Last winter, she discovered a whole new environment when we visited her first dog beach in California. She’s getting used to the waves and still doesn’t understand why the water tastes so bad. Her favorite place to be when we’re not exploring outside is sitting on my right leg in the van, staring out the passenger window as the miles fly by. For the past year, she’s come with us pretty much everywhere. But there was one adventure left to bring her along for. And it happens to be a pretty big deal for us: flying. Paragliding is our passion, our inspiration. It’s how we earn our living and what we plan our daily activities around.
She had been around paragliding plenty, riding in the truck up to launch, hunting for ground squirrels in the landing area, or watching from the ground with one of us while the other headed out for a flight. But anytime we were flying together, she had to wait it out in the van. Tala dog is pretty adaptable, but she does not like being left alone while we’re out having fun.
It was time to introduce her to the skies. Just like all of our other activities, we’ve taken it slow — always easing into it by putting her harness on, giving her lots of positive reinforcement, and letting her explore and get used to the idea before we attach her to the paraglider and get ready to launch. We decided to do her first flights in tandem. One of us would be in the back seat flying the glider, and the other one would be totally free to concentrate on making sure she was as comfortable and happy as possible. Knowing that Tala would be totally secure and supported has made the process of introducing her to the skies so much easier. We’ve taken her on a handful of flights; she is calm and takes in the view while we’re in the air. Sitting harnessed in on our laps seems to come naturally to her, just like hanging her head out the window of the van and watching the earth fly by.
The best thing about being able to paraglide with Tala dog is not the novelty of the flight itself, but the ability to bring her along for longer adventures. We often hike to get to remote locations to a launch, sometimes for hours, and we never want to leave her behind in the van. Anytime she’s around when one of us is getting suited up on launch now (even if we’re not planning on taking her up flying), she’ll come over and sit on our feet, telling us she’s ready to go.
We’re excited for future paragliding adventures with our magical soaring machines and this little flying desert wolf. Tala’s finally got her wings.
Follow all of Becca, Cade, and Tala’s adventures on Instagram.