I’ve spent the last few days and weeks delving deeper into the tragedies BEHIND the tragedy of what happened to Jack:
- the tragedies of other animals being lost and killed while in the airlines’ care;
- the tragedy of our government’s lack of interest in protecting creatures who are traveling by air;
- the tragedy that many commercial businesses will say ANYTHING to make money;
- and finally, the tragedy that many pet owners don’t even know that their pets are in danger when they fly.
Small groups of concerned Friends of Jack (FoJs) have assembled in various forums to discuss the legacy of Jack: what it’s going to take to make sure no other pet is lost by an airline. But this is a complex goal that involves at least three separate and distinct categories of players:
- animal guardians;
- the airlines; and
- the U.S. government.
Each of these groups must participate in certain ways if a traveling animal is to be safe.
The first line of defense against an animal being lost during transportation is that animal’s guardians. Those guardians include:
- pet parents (a person who has agreed to be the caretaker of a companion animal for its lifetime);
- rescue groups (people/organizations who agree to take care of an animal until it can be placed with a pet parent);
- breeders (anyone who has overseen the conception and birth of an animal and who seeks to sell it to a pet parent);
- anyone else who has agreed to be responsible for an animal’s food and shelter for a specific period of time.
Many pet parents and other responsible parties who often either travel with pets or who have pets traveling alone (e.g., rescue groups who arrange transport of pets to their pet parents in other cities) are aware of the hazards of air travel and take precautions to insure the safety of the animal. It is relatively rare (though not unheard of – e.g., Vivi) that pet parents who allow their dogs to participate in many dog shows experience difficulty with air travel. Like all experienced travelers, these pet parents know the “ins and outs” and know how to keep their furry kids safe.
There are is one HUGE challenge at this level:
Educating Animal Guardians Who Do Not Travel Regularly (or ever) With Their Pet: Jack’s mom, Karen, fell into this group. She did what she knew how to do: she consulted with her vet and with the airline regulations. She even went a step further and consulted with a friend who was an airline flight attendant. But it never occurred to her to do further research on what else she might need to do to keep Jack safe – because she didn’t know that airlines do not place keeping pets safe as a high priority. She did not know that airlines really do consider pets to be no different from other forms of checked baggage or cargo. We need to educate pet parents about the hazards of pet travel when a pet must go as checked baggage or cargo (including information about pet carriers!), providing information about other travel options, and precautions to take if being separated from your pet is unavoidable.
Each airline has its own specific rules for pet travel. Some, like Southwest and Jet Blue, only allow pets to travel under the seat. This is fine, of course, unless you wish to travel with a pet who does not fit under the seat (I’ll be writing a blog post on non-baggage travel options for these pets soon). This means your precious fur-baby is now in the care of the airlines for the duration of your travel. In a reasonable world, what should the airlines be doing to insure your pet’s safety as you go from Point A to Point B?
- Every airline should have its own secure area where animals wait to be placed on the plane. The person paying the pet’s way should be allowed to put the animal in that area. That area then should be viewable by all pet guardians via webcam.
- Only trained, concerned, pet-friendly handlers should be allowed to handle pets. As in the story of Lynn Jones, concerned, educated baggage handlers can save lives. Ideally, these folks should be paid a little bit more!!
- Because accidents WILL happen, airlines must have a response plan in place. Just as on-board airline staff are prepared for emergencies, so too must workers in the cargo and baggage areas be prepared for the worst. Airlines must drill their employees on what to do if a dog or cat does escape from its crate, and every airlines should have a search team (including search dog) on retainer and ready to respond within 2 hours of a pet going missing on airport grounds. The closest we have seen to this yet was the case of Wenty – and Alaska Airlines deserves kudos for their cooperation. Airlines must emulate – and even improve on! – this response.
THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
Finally, because the airline industry is HIGHLY regulated (especially in the wake of 9/11), the government must also be willing to stand up to commercial interests and stand for the appropriate care of all animals who are being transported by air. There are two significant initiatives that could make air travel for animals much safer:
- Treat ALL Traveling Animals with Dignity, Respect, and ACCOUNTABILITY: Right now, in the U.S., animals that are not traveling with their pet parent are not accounted for on the monthly, publicly available, Department of Transportation Pet Incident Reports. As I wrote in my last blog post, the definition of “animal” only includes those animals being returned to their parent or guardian. Animals traveling to their new homes or to pet stores are not counted. This means literally hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of dogs and cats are flying each year and, should something happen to any of them, there only accountability is the airline’s “liability” to the “shipper” – usually about $150 per animal. Animals are allowed to be lost, injured, suffer and even die — and the U.S. public has no way to find out about how often this happens. And the “guardians” of many of these animals don’t want anyone to know what has happened. This further reinforces the airlines’ stance that pets are no different from other forms of checked baggage or cargo. All animals traveling as cargo or checked baggage need to be accounted for by the DoT and the USDA.
- Impose SERIOUS fines on airlines that do not appropriately care for animals in transit: what if American Airlines had to pay a fee for every day Jack had been lost – let’s say a fine of $1,000 per day. This would force the airlines to respond in one of three ways:
- Be much more careful in the transport of animals;
- Raise the price of shipping animals to insure that these costs would be covered (which would force people to find other, safer ways to travel with their pets); and/or
- Get out of the animal shipping business.
I actually could live with any of those outcomes.
So, to anyone that is reading this, I think this covers many of the bases of what it’s going to take to make NEVER AGAIN a reality. What do you think???