Is It Safe For Pets to Fly (in cargo)?
By Anna E. Morrison-Ricordati
On February 4, 2010, Mr. James Hough received a phone call from a Delta Airlines cargo employee. Mr. Hough's Neopolitan mastiff puppy, Iagan, had departed from Brussels, Belgium on Delta Flight 125 and was scheduled to arrive at her new home in Peoria, Illinois that day. During a stop in Atlanta, Georgia, it was discovered Mr. Hough's puppy had died in transit. The puppy was removed for a necropsy to determine the cause of death and Mr. Hough submitted his on-line claim for the loss of Iagan on February 6. Based upon the necropsy performed at the University of Georgia, trauma could not be ruled out. Despite Mr. Hough's requests, the original crate used to ship Iagan was not provided to Mr. Hough for inspection. Instead, Delta provided him with a brand new crate. And despite his requests, no information about Iagan's post-flight appearance has been provided by Dandie Scottie Kennels, the contractor hired by Delta Airlines to transport Iagan for necropsy. To date, Mr. Hough's claim is unresolved. Smaller animals that qualify as carry-on luggage and assistance dogs may board the plane, but for other animals, transport via airplane is risky at best. Any number of problems can arise when animals are shipped on commercial airlines. In addition to stress and connection mix-ups, the cargo area - where live animals are kept - is pressurized and temperature-controlled only during flight. Cargo temperatures can fluctuate dramatically during pre and post flight delays. Animals may also be left outside, may break loose from a damaged crate, and if misplaced, may go without food and water.
We haven't heard more stories like Iagan's because the laws that govern animal reporting are recent and don't apply to all animals that fly. Only since 2005 has the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) required airlines to report the loss, injury or death of animals in transit. See, 49 U.S.C. Sec. 41721. Many animal deaths go unreported because the current DOT policy interprets "animal(s)" to include only those kept as companions/pets. Delta was not required to report Iagan's death because she was being delivered from a breeder to Mr. Hough, and thus was considered a "commercial shipment," not an "animal," under DOT standards. Adding insult to injury, airlines frequently rely upon language found on the backs of tickets or in fine print in an attempt to limit their liability for mishandling animals. While liability limits are subject to challenge in Court, the process can be expensive and timeconsuming.
Animal owners should be proactive in discovering an airline's animal handling policies and track record before opting to fly. This is especially true in situations where an animal owner is unfamiliar with a particular airline and is not aware of liability limits or the need to declare a higher value for his/her animal. Sadly, Iagan's story is not unique. The Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, or "Boris Bill," was spearheaded by Barbara Listenik, who had flown on Delta airlines with her dog Boris riding in cargo. Upon landing, Ms. Listenik was shown an empty, bloody crate and was told to fill out a baggage claim form.
Apparently, Boris' crate had broken in transit and Boris had disappeared. Similarly, a West Highland terrier puppy named Maggie Mae was crushed in cargo hold during a 2008 Delta flight transfer. These stories have caught the attention of United States Senators Robert Menendez, Richard Durbin, and Joseph Lieberman, who have proposed modifications to DOT's current definitions of animals to include dogs and cats transported by anyone, including breeders and handlers.
Only with adequate airline reporting can we better understand these animal safety issues. Contact your Senators to let them know of your interest in raising the standards for animals in transit.
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