One of the duties I most dreaded at a previous job of mine was evaluating the dogs for a local pet store. The pet store owner would go pick up new shipments of puppies at the airport, drop all 14, 16, 25 crates off at the clinic, and one of the vets would have to ‘sign off’ on the puppies before they headed to the store.
The puppies all came with paperwork from the, ahem, “breeder” (aka puppy mill.) We would look at them to check for heart murmurs, cleft palates, that sort of thing. The dog store owner would angrily respond if we noted the pets were overly lethargic, “Well, they just off a long flight and they are dehydrated, that’s all!” as if that was OK.
If one of the staff vets noted too many problems, he would request that vet not participate in the health evaluations. Needless to say, I was banned pretty early on in my time at that clinic.
That memory was the first thing that came to mind when I heard the horrible story of the 7 puppies who died on a recent American Airlines flight. When the story first broke, it was not clear if the dogs were adults or puppies; it is still not clear if the puppies all belonged to one shipper or not- but that is certainly looking like a strong possibility.
When I sign off on a health certificate for a pet, I’m ensuring the pet appears healthy and safe for travel. That being said, there are obvious risk factors that put otherwise healthy pets at increased risk for problems during air travel:
- Breed- Brachycephalic breeds like English bulldogs and pugs have a much harder time with extreme temperatures and are disproportionately represented in the numbers of pets dying during air travel
- Age- the very young and very old are more sensitive to stress
- And the most problematic external factor, environmental temperature.
Most airlines have a policy regarding temperature; American itself supposedly will not fly pets when temperatures are predicted to exceed 85 degrees at any point on the journey. Pets are usually pretty safe in the temperature controlled cargo area itself; the dangerous times are on the ground, on the tarmac. Why, then, were those puppies allowed on the plane when the temperature in Tulsa was 86 in the early morning hours?
On rare occasions I am asked to sign a statement of acclimatization, stating a pet has been acclimated to certain temperatures outside the normal “safe” range. I refuse. How the heck could a dog who lives in San Diego possibly be acclimatized to temperatures below 45 degrees? It’s an attempt for airlines to cover themselves, in essence by displacing the liability onto me by making me sign a statement saying, “Oh sure, he’ll be fine.”
The gets me yelled at sometimes by angry clients who are determined to ship a pet in conditions that are clearly risky. I’m OK with that. It’s better to have an angry client with a live pet than an angry one with a dead pet and a piece of paper signed by me stating that the pet would be fine.
The absence of any sort of statement from the puppy owner(s) makes me wonder exactly what happened. How could they not realize it was almost 90 degrees when they dropped the pets off? Were they warned, and just shrugged it off? Did a gate agent drop the ball?
We might never know the answers, but it serves as a sad reminder of why the rules are what they are. Pets can and do die when we take undue risks with these travel arrangements. It’s so sad.
Jenn D. says
The morning radio show I listen to was just discussing this the other day. The DJ has a great dane and wants to fly him on a vacation trip. A vet tech called in and said her clinic tells clients to just say their dog is a service dog so the dog can ride in the cabin. Illegal, definitely, but I can see how people would go to even illegal lengths to keep their dogs safe.
We will be moving from Virginia to Colorado sometime next year, hopefully in the summer. I am going to suck it up and drive with 4 cats and my 45-lb dog because I just can’t risk flying them. The drive will be fairly traumatic for them (all of them *hate* the car with the exception of one cat), but I can’t imagine flying would be any less so, and of course I want them all to be alive and well when we get to our destination.
Hi, I read your comment and thought I would suggest this http://www.rescueremedy.com/products/ Rescue remedy is safe for animals as well, I use it all the time and it relaxes the nerves. I’m not sure where you can buy it in the states but I bought it in a health food store in Ontario Canada and they mentioned to me as well as giving me a pamphlet about it being safe for pets. I hope that helps you out
I know a lot of people rely on rescue remedy, and if it works for them then great. I personally have not seen any noticeable effect from it whatsoever.
Jenn D. says
Thanks for the info! Technically we could also fly them on Pet Airways, if we could afford it (fat chance, lol). I’ll definitely look in to rescue remedy when the time comes.
I’ve used Rescue Remedy, and I know some people think it works well, but it didn’t help my nervous dog too much (then again, she was a breeder in a puppy mill, I got her because she wouldn’t come back into heat and therefore was of no use to them). She’s what I call semi-feral though, so she’s more nervous than the average scared dog. In the states you can buy Rescue Remedy at pretty much any natural foods store, including Whole Foods.
I heard about this sad story on the news , so very sad yet people continue to buck in the face of reality, common sense and do the irresponsible thing . When will it end. I think of those poor dogs who died needlessly.
Certainly a puppy-mill situation. So very sad. Unfortunately, it seems that the dollar in their pocket became more important than the lives of those puppies.
A close friend of mine is a pilot of an airline. He would not fly his pets… ever. He said that if you do fly with your dog in cargo, MAKE a point to tell the pilot. When he knows that there are pets on board, he keeps that in the back of his mind during tarmac delays, etc. Remember this!!
Dr. V says
That’s good advice. It reminds me of a story I read a few years back when a plane lost something in the cargo area- heat, maybe? The pilot remembered there was a dog in cargo and made an emergency landing.
Peggy Frezon says
When will airlines stop treating pets as cargo? I would love to see a separate live animal section on planes for pets, staffed with an attendant. I know, it all comes down to money 🙁
it all comes down to the law designating our companions as property, until that changes, we have little control over what happens to them and can only hope for more wonderful vets such as yourself to make the decision based on the pet’s best interest, not the person seeing that animal as money symbols. I will be starting vet school in the Fall and the oath that I plan on taking will be my promise to the animal that I will be their advocate and voice, whether it please a client or not.
There’s a new airline out there, Pet Airways (www.petairways.com), where pets travel in the cabin. A friend of mine who is a vet tech just applied for a job as a pet flight attendant for them. It sounds like a pretty neat idea. I’m sure it isn’t cheap, but at least it’s safer than risky stays on the tarmac.
I had a macaw come in almost dead and convulsing that was being shipped from California to Colorado with a plane transfer in Houston, where I was practicing. She was cold to the touch and a feather plucker, naked from neck to tail except for the large primary flight and tail feathers. I was able to save her, though it wasn’t easy, and it was touch and go for a while. A volunteer from the rescue transporting the birds drove down and picked her up for the rest of the journey after that. I think the problem was the airline required her to have a cage that was WAY too big (since the animal has to be able to turn around without touching the walls, long macaw tail included) and she got too cold and collapsed. Ugh, pet travel on the airlines always scares me.
My brother recently traveled in the cabin with his kitty when he moved to New York City. He can be a nervous cat, and his vet prescribed some ace for him to give before the flight. I think I scared him out of that one. I don’t like using ace, especially on animals who have never had it, without the ability to consult and see a vet immediately. He didn’t give it, and his cat was just fine on the flight – drug free!
I can’t understand people that don’t have a love of animals or will not even tolerate them. Animals give so much to people: love, service and for nothing. Humans should be more like them, more compassionate and ask for nothing in return but be loved. Yes, people are in it for the money and that is so sad. I will never fly my animals anywhere. I’d probably be more nervous then they would! I don’t mind driving long distances.
Bonnie Westbrook says
Oh boy, nail on the head in many ways… American Airlines, puppy mill shipping deaths, health risks… RIP, Jack the Cat, lost by American Airlines baggage handlers at JFK Airport on August 25, 2011. He lived in the ceiling for 61 days and finally, in weakness, fell through a ceiling tile. He was treated at Blue Pearl Veterinary Clinic, but succumbed to very advanced hepatic lipidosis, dehydration and injuries resulting from his fall twelve days later. The decision to euthanized was agonizing to his Momma. 25,000 Facebook fans are still grieving for the loss of Jack. Please check our site to learn more: http://www.wgereisjack.org and God bless those who care enough about animals to become activists to make a change to protect their welfare!
Bonnie Westbrook says
Oh boy, nail on the head in many ways… American Airlines, puppy mill shipping deaths, health risks… RIP, Jack the Cat, lost by American Airlines baggage handlers at JFK Airport on August 25, 2011. He lived in the ceiling for 61 days and finally, in weakness, fell through a ceiling tile. He was treated at Blue Pearl Veterinary Clinic, but succumbed to very advanced hepatic lipidosis, dehydration and injuries resulting from his fall twelve days later. The decision to euthanized was agonizing to his Momma. 25,000 Facebook fans are still grieving for the loss of Jack. Please check our site to learn more: http://www.whereisjack.org and God bless those who care enough about animals to become activists to make a change to protect their welfare!