Cadet Adam McMurray has a soft spot for furry friends.
So when McMurray, a licensed pilot and senior at the Air Force Academy, learned that a mother dog and her six pups were scheduled to be euthanized in Texas, he knew he had to do something.
Even if it cost him nearly $1,500 of his own money.
"I immediately started making phone calls to see if it could happen," McMurray said.
Englewood's Aspen Flying Club had sent out a call to members, asking them to assist Colorado Aussie Rescue by picking up the white-and-caramel Australian shepherds and bringing them back to Colorado for adoption.
Plane rental runs nearly $150 an hour, and the flight would take five hours each way.
The bill for the rescue would be large, and McMurray would have to foot it alone.
McMurray dug into his bank account and took to the air.
When he landed May 11 near Dallas and spotted the furry family, McMurray knew he'd made the right decision.
"I fell in love instantly with them," said McMurray, who has saved pets while working as a volunteer firefighter in Alabama during his high school years. "I couldn't help holding them and playing with them.
"They had so much energy, were so loving and gentle."
The pups, which were actually closer to half-year-olds than newborns, were a bit bigger than McMurray had imagined them.
Room in his single-engine plane was at a premium.
"We had to play the greatest game of Tetris ever" to fit all of the pet kennels in, he said with a laugh.
McMurray is no stranger to renting a plane for a weekend getaway.
He has been known to take his girlfriend on the occasional lunch date at a diner in Goodland, Kan., using a rented plane.
But his aerial excursion had more of a purpose, he said.
McMurray and his dad "got to go halfway across the country to save some animals," he said. "It was cool to have a mission behind the flight."
It's a mission McMurray hopes to repeat in the near future.
McMurray said he's receiving frequent word of puppies that need to be rescued from impending euthanization in nearby states.
He can't afford to rescue all the dogs on his own dime. And at the height of the school year, he can't afford to leave town every weekend.
When classes resume this fall, McMurray hopes to form a club of cadets who have their pilot's licenses and a heart for animals.
Members could raise money for pet rescues and take turns flying them, he said.
Eventually, he hopes to use his pilot skills to rescue even more precious cargo: wounded troops.
When he graduates from the academy next spring, McMurray hopes to begin training as a combat rescue pilot.
"Those pilots are the bravest and best pilots in the world," he said.