From the day we started the Facebook page, Karen and I were both clear that we only had 2 objectives:
- Find Jack.
- Make sure this never happens again.
As much as we didn’t like the final outcome on #1, it was accomplished. Now, it’s time to begin the serious and difficult work that the second part of this demands…
Section 710 of the AIR-21 Act (P.L. 106-81) requires the following:
- In General. — An air carrier that provides scheduled passenger air transportation shall submit monthly to the Secretary [of Transportation] a report on any incidents involving the loss, injury, or death of an animal (as defined by the Secretary of Transportation) during air transport provided by the air carrier.
In the official “Pet Incident Report” that is a part of the Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, in the months of August and September 2011, 5 pets are listed as deaths, 2 as injured, and 1 as lost.
The “lost” one was, of course, JACK – but the DOT will not be revising their report to update his status. That’s a problem in and of itself, but even if we leave that be, there’s so much more to think about.
As most of you reading this already know, there have been incidents with pets in cargo since Jack’s loss. For example, we are aware of a cat that was lost and then found dead at JFK during the time of the search for Jack, but the owner was traveling on Air France, and so there was no official report of this incident. Air carriers that are not based in the U.S. do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, so if an incident happens with an animal who will be traveling on an international carrier – even if that incident happens completely in the U.S. – no incident report needs to be filed.
And then there is the definition of “animal: the law states that the term “animal” will be defined by the Secretary of Transportation. In a letter to Senator Robert Menendez, one of the original sponsors of the AIR-21 law (see his original letter here), then-DOT General Counsel D.J. Gribbin states that “the air transport of an animal includes the entire period during which an animal is in the custody of an air carrier until the animal is returned to the owner or guardian. We therefore concluded that Congress intended the word “animal to cover pets being transported by their owners” (italics in original).
This means that, for those of us who are concerned with knowing exactly how many animals are killed, injured, or lost while flying cargo every year, the DOT report only tells us about a limited number of cases. Think about just two of the infinite number of circumstances that would render report by the air carrier unnecessary:
- Animal flying from rescue group to new home because no other transportation option is available… animal is injured, lost or dies in cargo, but because animal is not being returned to its owner, the airline is not required to report.
- Pet parent dies, and his or her animals are being flown to another family member who has agreed to take care of them… animal is injured, lost or dies in cargo, but because animal is not being returned to its owner, the airline is not required to report.
But the most important reason the DOT standard for reporting is not only flawed, but actively hides the enormous dangers faced by pets in cargo is stated in the same letter by then-General Counsel Gribbin: “We have no data on the loss, injury, or death of animals during commercial shipments. However, we understand that air carriers carry large numbers of animals, including livestock, zoo animals, and pets … in such shipments.” Even though LARGE NUMBERS of cognizant beings are transported as luggage on commercial airlines, it’s not their problem!!
What might be contained in a “commercial shipment of animals”? Cows, pigs, bears, ferrets, and, of course, dogs… dogs that are being sent from their place of birth (e.g., a “commercial breeder” aka puppy mill) to puppy stores, for example. The estimates on the number of just dogs (without even taking into consideration the other animals) shipped like this annually ranges from 3-8 million every year. In short, this means a substantial amount of money changes hands to get animals from one location to another. Animals that are not seen as living, conscious beings – but as mere commercial entities. Like furniture.
But as General Counsel for the DOT, Gribbin recognizes that that is NOT HIS PROBLEM, and he refers the rest of Senator Menendez’s questions to the USDA, specifically, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The acting administrator of APHIS at that time, Kevin Shea, flatly states that THEY DO NOT HAVE ANY ACCURATE DATA ON THE NUMBER OF COMMERCIAL SHIPMENTS OF ANIMALS, nor, of course, on the number of deaths, injuries or losses of these animals.
So the DOT tells us that they know air carriers are carrying “large numbers of animals” that aren’t under their regulatory purview… and the USDA tells us they have no idea what these “large numbers” of animals are, or what is happening to them. Since nobody seems to give a damn and there is obviously no recourse beyond exchange of money for “liability”, we can only guess what is actually happening to those animals. And my guess is, it isn’t something that we as humans should be proud of.
So when you read the “Pet Incident Report” that the DOT files every month, just remember, IT IS A VERY SMALL PART of the story of animals traveling by air. As Jack taught us, even that part of the story is not pretty if anything goes wrong. I shudder to imagine what else is happening beyond the “incident reports.”