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.