Old Curtis Doesn't Have a Pedigree, yet He's Proud to Be Nothing but a Hangdog

updated 07/02/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1979 01:00AM

Curtis has been Burke Ewing's dog for 13 years. Whatever Burke likes to do, Curtis does too. It has always been that way. When Burke was a 12-year-old back in Tustin, Calif., he was riding his minibike in front of his house one day when a stray puppy ran up and jumped in his lap. By the time Burke could dash inside and get his parents' permission to keep the pooch, a shepherd mix, it had been carted off to the pound. Burke was afraid the officials there would put his new friend to sleep, so he tried to convince them he owned the puppy. Prove it, they told him. "I said, 'Come here, Curtis,' " Burke recalls—he doesn't remember why he chose the name—and Curtis ran over and licked his face. "From that time on," says Burke, "Curtis would follow me everywhere. If I went swimming, he went swimming. If I climbed a fence, he climbed the fence. If I rode a motorcycle, he was on the back. Curtis doesn't have a pedigree, but he has real heart."

Still, his owner was astonished at what Curtis did five years ago when Burke went hang-gliding off 350-foot Torrey Pines bluff (right) near San Diego. No sooner had Burke floated off into space than the dog decided to follow. To his dismay, Curtis proved to be a dangerously inadequate butterfly and tumbled partway down the cliff. A veterinarian had to insert three steel pins in his broken front leg. Deciding that if Curtis wanted to fly that badly, something ought to be done about it, Burke designed a special harness to take his pet aloft. "I hooked him up so his legs rest on my back, and he loved it," says Burke. "On the first flight he tensed up a little at takeoff, but once he got used to the idea he relaxed and started licking my neck." Burke is a hang-gliding instructor of 25 now, a pioneer in his sport who is thinking of switching to acting and songwriting. And Curtis is an old dog of 13 whose flight time will soon be behind him. For now, though, there is nothing either of them would rather be doing than soaring out above the Pacific as other dogs watch from below, wagging their tails and barking their envy.

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