Jack went missing over 7 months ago. And I’ve been struggling with the complexities that have emerged as a result of my vow to him that no other animal would be die because he or she had flown a commercial airline. And yesterday I received two more wake-up calls that this work MUST move forward.
In the middle of the afternoon, I got a text from Friend of Jack Eileen Pollan that a post had been put up on the page about Nahla, a Viszla who had gone missing from Delta’s cargo area at La Guardia Airport (just across the borough of Queens from where Jack had gone missing at JFK). Knowing the FoJ community would respond with help and prayers, I immediately posted Nahla’s picture to Jack’s facebook page and asked the FoJs for search help. And then I went to the vet with my oldest dog, Trixie.
You see, Trix has been limping off and on for about the last month. And the limp (her right rear leg) has been getting more prominent. I was worried she had a torn meniscus and figured it would be good to get an x-ray and have a doctor take a look. And so we were at the vet for about an hour. Turns out my Trixster (age 10) has arthritis.
Just as we were finishing up with the doctor, Bonnie Folz, Jack’s on-site search coordinator and missing pet finder extraordinaire, called to tell me there was a flyer to post on the Jack page and that help was needed getting the word out in the area surrounding La Guardia. It was pretty clear that Nahla had left the airport property.
And as I got off the phone with Bonnie and paid my bill, I looked up to see one of the receptionists filling out a health certificate for a gentleman and his dog seated on the other side of the reception area. I listened for a bit – seems he was taking his dog to St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. And then I looked at the dog. The dog was too big to go under the seat. And the dog was not young. Not young AT ALL.
That meant this guy was flying out of Miami (temperature yesterday: 88 degrees F) with his dog in cargo – a dog who, it turned out, was 13 years old – and was not even having a vet check him over!!! I had to ask…
“Sir, are you flying your dog out in cargo? Are you aware of the stresses older dogs are subjected to when they fly cargo?”
He looked shocked. “Yes, he’s flying to the USVI… it’s only a 2 hour flight… ”
“Sir, do you know how many animals are lost, injured or killed by the airlines every year? And do you know that older animals are particularly at risk? Did you hear about Jack the Cat – lost by American Airlines’ negligence for 61 days, and then he died?”
“Oh my God no… you’re freaking me out!”
So then I went and sat with him and his dog (great dog, by the way – rescued from the streets in Mexico) and told him about Jack. And even though what happened to Nahla was not Delta’s fault, I told him about Nahla, too – to remind him that flying in cargo is very stressful, and that dogs coming out of that situation might be very stressed and still not be safe. And then I got his email address and promised to send him some information, which I did, right after I got home and posted Nahla’s flyer to Jack’s page, asking all the FoJs for help.
And then, later that night, Bonnie let me know that Nahla had been found. Unfortunately, she was not found before she had crossed the rainbow bridge.
And I was reminded, yet again, how important it is that all of us keep Jack in mind all the time.
- Nahla was lost because her guardian (who was an experienced handler) was trying to take her out of her crate in the open cargo area. When Karen and I talked about what it was like to look for Jack in the baggage area right after he went missing, what she said over and over and over again was that the baggage area was LOUD – not a place a cat would want to stay. And clearly, not a place an overstimulated, frightened dog would want to stay, either. NO ONE (not airport personnel, and not even pet parents) should be allowed to remove an animal from his or her carrier in anything but a secure room in the airport. And airlines must be required to provide such a room if they are going to move animals as “checked baggage” or “cargo.”
- Most people just do not understand the stresses that a dog or cat (or any other animal for that matter) goes through when flying as cargo or checked baggage. First and foremost, the animal is separated from his or her pet parent – the person he or she trusts for protection and love. Secondly, conditions are loud, bumpy, and even possibly smelly (remember, dogs and cats have a much stronger sense of smell than humans do). And thirdly, the animal will disembark from this stressful experience in what may be an extremely unfamiliar environment – an airport in an unknown city. Unless the animal is very mellow by nature (since sedatives and flying are not a good combination), this has the potential to be a recipe for disaster unless all the humans involved are EXTREMELY careful.
- All the vets and vet techs in the practice I take my animals to are well aware of what happened to Jack. Several times, they have referred pet parents to me to help them prepare for travel. But this was a new receptionist, and clearly the dog had recently been seen by a vet and just needed a health certificate. If I hadn’t been at the right place at the right time — and spoken up! — this poor 13-year-old dog would have been put in cargo without a second thought… and definitely without his guardian understanding that at minimum, he needed to do some things to make sure this fur-kid would be safe. BOTTOM LINE: it’s up to all of us, all the time, to keep our eyes and ears open, to be aware when people are planning to fly with their pets, to be prepared to raise awareness and help them prepare in the best way possible.
I know the Universe was speaking to me yesterday – reminding me that even thought honoring Jack’s legacy is complicated and sometimes difficult, it is absolutely necessary. We must educate people and require that the airlines – and the government – change the way they approach pet air travel. Jack, and now Nahla, deserve nothing less.
And I pray that Guido, the 13-year-old rescue dog I met yesterday, will have a safe passage to the USVI. He’s moving there. And I hope he gets to enjoy a nice long retirement on those pristine beaches.