SENECA, N.C. -- Dexter is a dog, but he knows when it's time to fly.
He's always waiting under the 1964 Bentley helicopter when Randy Van Surdam comes out of the second-story loft apartment built inside this private airplane hangar in Seneca. Dexter's tail wags as Van Surdam scoops him up.
"When I come out in the morning, he'll be sitting under" the chopper, Van Surdam said.
Van Surdam, who owns a vintage aircraft business, is an airplane mechanic at the Oconee County Regional Airport. He inspects airplanes and helicopters. Every day, he starts up the engine of his two-seater Bentley helicopter, places Dexter in the doggie bed on the passenger seat and flies the two miles to work.
At the airport hanger, Dexter has another bed.
"He just sits here and watches the world go by," Van Surdam said.
The tradition of bringing a pet to work didn't start with Dexter, Van Surdam said. It started with Ernie, another one of Van Surdam's many pets. Like pets do, Ernie would always hover around Van Surdam when it was time to start up the helicopter.
"One day, Ernie just jumped into the seat," Van Surdam said. "It was like he said, 'All right, I'm ready to go, too."'
Van Surdam lives on a 60-acre property, with a landing strip in his backyard. He built a hanger at one end of the strip.
As he pulls in, he's greeted by barking dogs and a cluster of horses, staring over a fence with their noses pointed in his direction.
"They know when they hear me coming that it's feeding time," Van Surdam said.
There are 11 dogs here, three horses, a donkey and about 17 ducks and geese on this farm. And they all have a story, Van Surdam said. In fact, several of these animals wouldn't be here if it weren't for Van Surdam.
Van Surdam, 55, is president of the Oconee County Humane Society. He's always had at least one dog. Before he moved to this farm, he lived in Clemson and had two dogs. The extra land gives him the space to save more animals, he says.
Like Ocra. She's a dog that was trapped by animal control officers. She was on her way to the animal shelter until Van Surdam discovered her. She was wild then. Now, she'll lay down and nuzzle your feet.
Then there's Thelma, who was found in the woods, and Alli, a pooch who had heartworms and was taken to the shelter because her owners couldn't afford the treatments she needed. Oh, and Zai, a French Beauceron that belonged to a college student. Van Surdam agreed to take care of Zai for a short while for the student. Then when the student was killed in a car crash, this farm became Zai's home.
Dexter was a stray wandering on the side of the road. He was healthy but needed some love and some food.
These days, he's a little older and can't walk on his back legs anymore. Van Surdam said Dexter injured his back while running in the yard. "He turned to look at me, and ran into a tree," Van Surdam said.
That's why Dexter is his co-pilot now. He needs the extra time with dad -- and besides, he loves to fly.
(Contact Charmaine Smith-Miles of the Anderson Independent-Mail in Anderson, S.C., at www.independentmail.com/staff/char