Airlines, young pets and the travel conundrum

This recent post over at Petopia about the tragic death of a young kitten who was being transported from Utah to Connecticut really made me sad. And then it made me angry.

Here is the gist of things:

A family purchased a hairless Sphynx from a breeder. On January 22, the breeder put the 11 week old kitten on a Delta flight from Utah to Connecticut. The plane landed in 7 degree weather, sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour, and, sadly, the cat died.

This was totally preventable. TOTALLY.

Travel Service Airlines Rental

by caribb, on Flickr

Animal welfare regulations recommend pets stay within the 45 to 85 degree range at all points during travel.

To get around this and try to shift the responsibility onto someone else, airlines will sometimes make an exception if a person has a “statement of acclimation” from a veterinarian saying the pet has been accustomed to wider variations in temperature and can tolerate lower temperatures. Even with this,

Federal regulations specify that dogs and cats must not be exposed to ambient temperatures that fall below 45 F for more than four consecutive hours while in animal holding areas of airport terminals. The regulations also limit exposure to temperatures lower than 45 F to 45 minutes while transferring the animal between the aircraft and the animal holding area.

So according to federal regulations, any pet, even a cold- acclimated 75 pound sled dog from Alaska, should not be on a tarmac at temperatures lower than 45 degrees for over 45 minutes. This was a tiny hairless kitten in 7 degree temperatures for almost an hour. Of course this tragic event happened.

There have been so many times a person comes in with a puppy they want to ship to a cold climate, waving a health certificate in front of me and insisting I sign off on the airline’s dictated temperature. “You have to say that this 8 week old puppy is acclimated to 35 degrees!” they yell. “He’s flying tomorrow!”

Remember that we live in San Diego, right?

I get a good number of livid clients by refusing to sign off on that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, my job isn’t to make life easier for breeders who want to take a risk doing unsafe things and just hoping it will turn out OK, which is exactly what this breeder in Utah did. They took a gamble and lost.

They put this juvenile hairless kitten on a plane scheduled to land in New England, in January, at 8 at night. My job is to inform such a person exactly why I can’t sign off on the statement of acclimation, because no, the pet is not ready for that. And this is the result.

I know it’s a pain to send pets on planes, and it’s expensive and a hassle and everyone hates dealing with it. But at the end of the day, putting a pet on a plane is a risky proposition, and the airlines are covering themselves with their restrictions because pets do die all too often without them. Cargo latches get stuck. Things happen. And pets pay the price.

What should have happened is this:

Breeder: I’m so sorry, I know you are very excited but I can’t safely ship this pet to you in this weather. His little body can’t handle a cold hour on a Connecticut tarmac if there’s any problems. Can we hold off until we get a break in the weather so he isn’t put in danger?

How could any reasonable person say no?

So sad.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Health Tagged: ,
  • Oh, this made me tear up and then my bp went up,and then I teared up again. This was sooooo preventable. I am both a veterinary technician and a breeder of Cornish Rex cats (and also have a pet Sphynx). I have been breeding CRex since 1989 and have flown many cats in cargo and while I am anxious every time, I follow the airlines requirements to the letter. I NEVER ship when it is NOT between 45-85 degrees; I NEVER ship before 16 weeks of age; I ALWAYS use a Vari-Kennel 100 (which now run about $75) and I ALWAYS send them with a Snuggle Safe if the temperature is lower than 60 degrees. I ALWAYS get a direct flight or I don’t fly them–the owner would need to fly out and get them so they could fly in the cabin with them (and I have had people use their frequent flyer miles to do just that).

    But I also have a 4 page adoption application that starts out the adoption process and it doesn’t take long for me to ‘weed’ out people (who would insist on flying a cat in such conditions, etc).

    I have also found that so much depends on who answers the phone, both at the airline and at the veterinarians office, too. Sometimes neither knows the requirements or why those requirements are there–for the protection of the animal, NOT for the convenience of the shipper or consignee!

    I do not know how, in good conscience the breeder could have shipped that kitten, or how a veterinarian could have signed off on it! Your post certainly says what any good vet should have said…I can’t ok shipping this kitten now.
    As bad as this sounds, I am not making it up…I know a former breeder that said her vet used to just give her the signed health certificate and she fills it out…

    I am saddened that this little kitten had to lose it’s live because of multiple people being incompetent. Irresponsible people are irresponsible in all areas of their lives, not just with their pets…

    • So many people tell me what you describe is impossible. It’s impossible to only ship in those conditions, it’s impossible to only do direct, blah blah blah. So good to know they are full of it.

      And the part about the signed health certificates is just horrible.

  • I am sure the owner and the breeder feel bad. But seriously. Who agrees to ship an 11-week-old kitten across country? In cargo? At ANY time of the year? If I wanted the kitten that badly, I would have flown my butt out to get her and brought her back in the cabin with me. Sorry.

    And the so-called “breeder?” What the HELL? Clearly more interested in making a buck than the safety of the pet.


    OK, yes the airline could have done better. But the two parties who are supposed to be the ones responsible for this sweet baby failed her miserably. And she paid the price.

    I’m with Teri. These people are irresponsible and incompetent. Seriously. 11 week old HAIRLESS kitten in cargo? *shaking head in disbelief*

  • Kim

    If I were spending the dough to have a purebreed cat shipped across the country, I’d spend the extra $400 and fly myself to and from and take the cat as a carry on myself…

  • Jeanne

    This is why I refuse to fly my dog anywhere – and he’s a 55 pound Terv from the snow belt in CNY. If you don’t hear stories about animals dying in transit, it’s the airline losing them on the Tarmac. But there are pet airlines now. If you’re paying for a purebred, wouldn’t you pay the extra money to fly them that way? I know I would! It’s not just a pet – it’s a life and you’re responsible for it.

  • The airlines don’t treat their human passengers well I would never trust them with my dog. Puppies and kittens should NEVER be shipped across the country like produce. People show some common sense. I don’t even trust the airlines with my bags. I fly with carry-on only. I send additional items by Priority Mail.

  • Megan

    Ok, I read the article linked, and while I feel for the woman, who apparently paid extra for “climate controlled” cargo, thinking a kitten would be safe flying in cold weather that way. This whole situation was a failure on so many people’s parts. Honestly, I’m more upset that the breeder would ship her and the owner would consent to the shipping of a young HAIRLESS kitten in the middle of January to New England. And yes, I would also like to know what vet signed off on that health certificate. The only fault I can see on the airline’s end is if they overlooked or there was a mix-up about an acclimation waiver. I’m with Dr. V on this one – I would have a tough time signing that waiver if it were asked of me, and definitely would refuse it in an 11 week old hairless kitten going to New England in January.
    I saved the life of a parrot who ended up in a similar situation flying from California through Houston on its way to Colorado to go to the Gabriel Foundation (a nonprofit sanctuary for pet birds – they are awesome) The bird was a feather picker, and was naked over its entire body except for flight, tail, and head feathers. The bird was unresponsive, convulsing, and cold to the touch when it got to me from Intercontinental airport. Its cloacal temperature was in the mid-low 80s (normal for a bird is around 105 degrees). I had to administer valium to stop the convulsions, and place a catheter into her bone to start fluids and aggressive warming. She made it, but ended up passing away several months later from aspergillosis, a fungal infection she likely developed as a result of the immune suppression that occurred secondary to such an extreme hypothermia. This was from going on a plane from Oakland California to Houston in December. Even down south, where temperatures don’t go below the 50’s very often in the wintertime, hypothermia can strike. That poor kitten, as Dr. V and the article cited state, didn’t stand a chance.

  • Being a travel agent and hearing so many stories of what happens to pets on a plane, I personally would never fly my pet anywhere. If it takes a 22 hour drive then thats what it takes but they are not flying. It’s sad but you cannot trust the airlines.

    • Leigh

      I fully agree… I will never fly my dog anywhere. If I ever have to move across the country, etc… we’ll be driving!

  • And to add it was just poor judgement all the way around on behalf of all parties. RIP Kitty, so sad.

  • Thank doG for vets like you! Do you think part of the problem is someone MUST HAVE this designer pet NOW? I would be terrified to put any pet on a place out of my supervision and would probably only do so if it were an emergency. That breeder should be taken in on animal abuse charges because it’s kind of a no brainer.

  • Makes no sense, why didn’t they fly out to get the kitten, and bring them back in the cabin? I flew to FLA so I could bring back a $125 rescue pup in the cabin with me, they wouldn’t do this for an expensive, delicate purebred?

    No matter who the blame sits on, what a sad and lonely way to die, shivering, scared and alone.

  • Kristina

    Hmmmmm. I may get tarred and feathered for this but I think the owner deserves some pity here. I really feel for her. She relied upon statements of professionals and truly believed paying for a climate controlled cargo was going to protect her kitten. Clearly that mistake will never happen again with this family. She opened herself up to attack by sharing this awful story with the world wide online community. Someone in our family when I was young flew our beloved pet cross country in stifling heat conditions and we didn’t think two whits about it-vet said it was okay, so we did. We all learn in this life by our experiences. How many people rely on doctors and lawyers and accountants and get taken to the cleaners, or end up worse off, ill, dead, or in jail, for picking one that is incompetent or unscrupulous? To say, just get on the plane yourself was the obvious answer to this poor girl just isn’t fair. People fly pets all the time relying on what they think is competent advise. Oblivious to the danger. I am horrified but sadly not surprised by the vet tech who posted here a vet gave blank signed health certs to a breeder. That kind of crap happens way to much in the medical and legal professions as well, which I know from 18 years in regulation and enforcement of one of those professions. That is why forums such as this are so important for all of us to share our human experiences so we know better from having learned by others mistakes so we don’t have to go through the horror this poor woman did. And have some compassion for eachother as we move forward and make things better.

    • No, I agree. I think if anyone along the way WHO SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER ARGH the vet who signed off on the health certificate, the breeder, the airline- not a single one cared and they all should have known. How does your average person with no experience in the field know to question that? I feel for her too and I guarantee if you asked her right now “If you knew there was a good chance of this happening would you have been ok waiting?” she would say yes.

  • I don’t think anyone involved with that kitten behaved responsibly.

    Have the new owners never flown? Anyone who has ever flown, and who has ever paid the LEAST bit of attention is clear that luggage sits on the tarmac. For a long time, sometimes. And that, even if the cargo space is climate controlled, it sure is NOT climate-controlled when loading/unloading, which can take a loooooooooooong time. A hairless beast in a New England winter? Please. No way.

    The breeder is clearly scum, shipping that baby, and the owners are morons.

    The vet, well, the vet should NEVER have signed that form.

    With others, I want to know why the person didn’t fly out there and retrieve that baby, so she could fly in the cabin. With blankies. Even in the cabin, it’s cold on an airplane……..

    Poor kitty. Yet another victim of people making money in immoral ways…….

  • Tonya!

  • Cathey

    WOW! So many places for the blame. I can only say that those who cared should have gotten MORE INFORMATION, and those that didn’t care should have been horsewhipped. There’s no excuse for a professional vet or breeder either one making these mistakes.

    My condolences to the prospective owner for whatever their mistakes were, I give them credit for sharing this experience so that others may learn from it. Now go to a LOCAL shelter and save a cat in your own back yard!

  • What a terrible tragedy. 🙁 Seems like we are hearing a lot of horror stories lately with regard to pets and travel. A friend of mine has a French bulldog – she’d traveled with him in the cabin before and confirmed this policy. But then the gate attendant refused to let her on the plane and gave her a hard time… long story short, my friend had to rent a car and drive from Atlanta to New York because she refused to put her pup in cargo.

    • Geez louise. Good for her for doing the right thing, but ugh. A Frenchie in cargo? No way.

  • Having purchased Dakota from a breeder nearly 12 years ago for a sum that made my eyeballs pop out of my head, I can’t imagine buying a pet sight unseen from across the country. I feel terrible for this poor kitten as it clearly suffered the last hours of its life, but I am so angry at the breeder and at the owner. The breeder should be looked into for other instances of animal abuse because clearly this person had no qualms about putting this pet on a plane it shouldn’t have been on. I wonder what other things will turn up. I know you can’t prevent people from buying from breeders – and I know there are some very reputable breeders out there – so I tell people if they insist on getting a burebreed animal then they should at least get it from someone local so they can meet the person, see the conditions the animals was born in and meet the pet.

  • There are pet courier services – more expensive, but safer – like: