A few days ago I received notice about a new case being filed against Delta Airlines… under the headline “Airline Lets Dog Fry: Lawsuit”, the New York Post reported on yet another “pets on a plane” debacle. One dead dog and 10 sick puppies landed at Salt Lake City Airport – and yet, after scouring the Pet Incident Reports for 2008, I found no information. Hmmm… guess this was another case where these poor pooches weren’t really “pets.” But then what was up with the lawsuit? Most puppy mill operations take it as a given that there will be “losses” (read: sick and dead dogs) as a cost of doing business and are prepared to do the write-off. Clearly, this woman – Barbara Burgett – was not a “typical” dog-shipping client.
After a couple hours of searching online, I was able to locate Barbara Burgett at her home in Utah, where she told me the story of what had happened. Seems she fell in love with a picture of a French Bulldog named Hector… but Hector lived in Hungary. After staring at his picture for months, Barbara decided to purchase Hector and 10 of his offspring – she would distribute the pups to her children and grandchildren (and yes, they would be bred), and they would all live happily ever after. And so it began…
Barbara details the whole story in great depth on her blog, Dogs vs. Delta… but the bottom line is this: it seems the dogs arrived at JFK from Hungary in fine condition. It was getting from JFK to SLC that killed them. Barbara told me that Hector – the adult male she had fallen in love with – was dead before they loaded him on the plane. The pups were all in critical condition by the time they arrived in Utah. It took many weeks of intensive care for 8 of the 10 to survive, and one of them – now an adult dog – is still in rather delicate condition (he remains Barbara’s personal pet).
Barbara is suing Delta and its contractors (Swissport and Vet Port) for enticement, negligence, breach of contract, and several other charges. But she knows the money isn’t really important – the beautiful Hector, whose picture she had been staring at for many months, could not be replaced. But she wants Delta to be held accountable for the promise it broke – the promise that her pets would be treated as “precious”:
“I went to several airline sites that transported dogs, and totally believed Delta’s “pets first” and “precious cargo” advertising and truly believed that my dogs would receive much more than the basic protections and care under the existing laws, in fact, I believed they would be truly treated precious, like how I would care for them, like gold. I called three times to talk to Pet’s first customer service to ask questions and confirm that my dogs would be treated like precious cargo. I so thoroughly believed their enticing advertising statements to be true to the extent of insisting my dogs fly Delta, (contrary to the sellers preference), and had to wait an extra week for my dogs so that they could fly on Delta.”
And this is the problem: those of us who are AMATEURS – people like Jack’s mom Karen, people like Barbara Burgett – believe the airlines’ advertising. They believe the airlines will take care of their pets as living, sentient beings. They believe that the airlines staff people whose primary job is to take care of the pets on a plane. They believe the airlines CARE about the welfare of the pets on their planes.
And those beliefs are what makes them AMATEURS. No disrespect intended. We are all amateurs an awful lot of the time in life. But being an amateur in this arena means an animal’s life is at risk.
MOST PEOPLE don’t know the truth about how pets are treated when they are traveling as checked baggage or cargo. And the airlines make it mighty difficult to find the truth. Indeed, even checking the Pet Incident Reports (where Hector and his puppies are NOT listed) reveals little more than the tiniest little bit of the problem. And there’s a reason for this: there is BIG MONEY at stake.
Barbara paid $250 PER DOG to have these dogs brought from Hungary. That’s $2750. That’s not chump change.
Now, in the U.S., approximately 500,000 puppies are sold in puppy stores… and most of those puppies are shipped to those stores from other states. If shipping each of those dogs costs just $100 (less than half what Barbara paid for international shipping 4 years ago), that makes commercial shipping of animals in the U.S. a $50,000,000 (yes, that’s $50 MILLION) a year business. NO WONDER THE AIRLINES DO NOT WANT TO BE PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR EVERY PET THAT IS LOST, IS INJURED, OR DIES WHILE IN THEIR CARE. If people knew how many dogs (and, to a lesser extent, cats) were dying on planes, they would be horrified.
(BTW – Barbara said she looked into having a vet tech fly from Hungary to Utah with the dogs – she was happy to pay round trip airfare – but that wouldn’t have gotten the dogs out of cargo. So it seemed pointless. Of course, if a person had been flying with the dogs, the dogs would have been listed on the Pet Incident Report for that month, but that wouldn’t have changed the outcome.)
So, this suit has the potential to open up the discussion in a whole new way. Let’s wish Barbara well… and let’s see if this can help us make the changes we all want to see made. Can you help us?? Please SUPPORT THE CAUSE if you can!!!!