Doggy daring takes Otis skydiving in Lodi

Otis is an accomplished sky diver, but he will never tell you as much himself.

At 10 years old, Otis has dabbled with virtually every free-fall position, his favorite being a relatively tame "sit." His latest jump, on Monday afternoon, was the 64th he has completed.

The one thing Otis has not attempted is a solo jump. He cannot be trusted with basic commands, midair formations or even the crucial tug of his parachute's rip cord.

To be fair, Otis is a high-flying pug whose owner, Will DaSilva, enjoys taking him on a stratospheric ride when the dog feels up for it.

"What captures me about the sport is the freedom of it. I don't see it as risk-taking, but more like relaxation," said DaSilva, who has nearly 13,000 jumps to his credit.

When DaSilva still worked at the Lodi Parachute Center, he got the idea to strap Otis onto his front and see if he enjoyed the daredevil activity, too. That was nine years ago, when Otis, still an open-minded puppy, had more energy to chase after the planes taking off.

The resident "rigger" made a custom-fit harness for Otis, basically a papoose for hanging loose. Once DaSilva found him a pair of "doggles," Otis was ready to take the plunge, with a low-altitude "hop-and-pop" maneuver.

"Otis is only a fair-weather flier," DaSilva said. "I'm not trying to prove anything."

DaSilva denies that Otis' jumps are meant as a gimmick. According to his logic, Otis would resist going into the harness if he truly disliked the sensation – no different from his protests before a trip to the vet's office.

"He's going to die of a food overdose, not from sky-diving," DaSilva said.

Apparently Otis is mellow and obedient until a treat comes into view. Another sky diver calls him "Hoover," like the brand of vacuums, because his diet is also extreme.

Alyssa Fitzpatrick works at the "drop zone," and she is DaSilva's fiancée. She compares Otis' embrace of the skies to the feeling dogs get when they stick their head out of a moving car's window.

"Consistent with most pugs, Otis is pretty lazy. But if he can do the sport, most anyone can," Fitzpatrick said.

Bill Dause, owner of the Parachute Center at Lodi airport, said he never objected to Otis' stunts. "The intent was for a one-time novelty, but everyone else wanted to go along with Otis and see him jump," he said.

Beloved for a stowaway, Otis has not let his sky-high popularity change him any.

In fact, he still buddies up with the other critters in the hangar, between flights of course.

"Otis is living the ultimate dream. He lounges around here all day, jumping for free and bumming food off the other divers," DaSilva said.

Although Otis is mostly ground-bound these days, his technique was flawless throughout his most recent tandem demo with DaSilva.

Afterward, Otis wriggled out of his harness and ran a few victory laps.

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