Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets

When There’s a Problem BEFORE the Problem…

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Yesterday, I wrote a post about a woman who was suing Delta Airlines in the aftermath of a debacle… she had used their Pets First service to have 11 French Bulldogs flown to her in Utah from Hungary.  The adult dog arrived deceased at SLC; the 10 puppies were ill and 2 died sometime soon after.  The woman, Barbara Burgett, is now suing Delta Airlines and its subcontractors; her suit does not name any specific charges, but on her blog (Dogs vs. Delta) she suggests that several different laws concerning the proper treatment of animals in transit were violated.

I wrote the post after speaking with Barbara personally for about an hour.  She seems like a nice lady – mother, grandmother, says she gives to Best Friends (in southern Utah) and has rescued many animals.  She said she and her family were planning to “lightly” breed the dogs.  I took her at her word, even though – as someone who is concerned about how many animals we euthanize in the U.S. every year – I’m not a big fan of many of the people who breed dogs.  I do believe in “breed preservation” – but frankly, from what I understand, if you’re interested in preserving a particular breed of dog, you already own that dog and have been participating in breed-specific activities (e.g., dog shows, agility, etc.) long before you decide to breed.  I’m not sure that was her situation.  But  that was a tangent… What was clear was that no matter why they were coming to the U.S., these dogs did deserve to be treated well on their way here – they did not deserve to die of heat stroke on the flight.  Or to become seriously ill because of their time on the plane.

After I posted this piece, and shared it with the Jack page on facebook, I was surprised at the response.  Many people questioned the truth of the story… FoJ Cara Jordan put her concerns the most clearly: ” Can we remove this story until more facts are received. its extremely vague and really, with everything going on regarding Jack, I’d be super careful of putting other unsubstantiated cases [before] us! My family have used delta for some time, and I have NEVER had a problem. Although I think problems can and DO happen, this story is far fetched and I’d hate for this wonderful site to forego any repercussions for posting such an unbelieveable story!”

I obtained copies of the documents Ms. Burgett filed with the court, as well as responses from Delta and the other defendants.  No one asked the court to dismiss the case – which is what they would have done if there were any question about the basic facts.  So I feel confident asserting that this isn’t just some lady in Utah making libelous statements against Delta.

But… even though I am confident in saying that based on what I know about this situation, Delta clearly did not treat these dogs as “precious cargo,” I am still not completely comfortable with this case.  Why?  Because there was a problem even before these dogs were ever put on the plane.

Here’s the premise on which the whole story rests: Barbara Burgett was BUYING these dogs.  They were to become her PROPERTY – their ownership was to be transferred to her because she was willing to pay for them.  It seems she was willing to pay alot of money for them – something around $20,000.  And she was buying them from someone who clearly made it his BUSINESS to buy and sell dogs!!  She says on her blog, Dogs vs. Delta:

Prior to purchasing the dogs, I took the following responsible steps and precautions. I contacted the American Embassy and had them do a back ground check on the person selling them, and to help in finding an interpreter. The background check was clean, and there were no complaints or legal actions of any kind against them. After deciding on an interpreter, I then contacted several veterinary hospitals in their area to inquire about them from the vets perspective (dog care practices etc), and none of these places had any complaints or knew of any complaints. I then contacted four people in the USA that had purchased dogs from this person, and they all said there dogs were healthy and great, and had also arrived healthy. I traveled to see a son of Hector’s, he was beautiful too and the owner had no complaints about this seller either. So, I proceeded forward and over the next six weeks, made arrangements to purchase my dream dogs.

So here we have a situation where one person (in Hungary) who views dogs as mere property to be bought and sold (and has been doing this for some time) is now SELLING the dogs to another person who also views these dogs as property to be bought and sold… and then, of course, Delta is going on to treat the DOGS AS PROPERTY because airline cargo, is by definition, property.  Cargo is not passengers.

And the saddest thing is, ALL ELEVEN OF THE DOGS PAID A STEEP PRICE because they were viewed as property.  Three paid with their lives.

Barbara Burgett says on her blog, “I know that no one that has a love of animals/dogs would ever attempt to make this incident about where the dogs came from, or, how much they cost…”.  Indeed, why would it be necessary to make an issue of their origin if they were treated with the care and respect they deserved from the beginning?  Who cares where a loving creature comes from?? I have many friends who have adopted children from other lands – China, Peru, Slovakia.  Adopting a child from another country is an expensive proposition – I’ve heard of people spending upwards of $50,000 to adopt, including travel expenses.  But it’s about LOVE… and that is reflected in their behavior, not in the money spent!!!  IN NO CASE have I ever heard of a child being put on a plane from that other county and flown to the U.S. alone.  The new parents – the people who have made a commitment to care for this little bundle of love for its lifetime – go to the new country and meet the child and bring him or her to their home.

Of course, no one would go to such lengths to obtain a purse they saw on the web that they thought was really spectacular.  They’d just have it shipped.

And that is what Barbara Burgett did.  And that is what the seller of the dogs allowed.

Because both of them saw the dogs as property.  Not as sentient beings who deserve respect and appropriate care in every moment of their lives.

Barbara says she was willing to pay a vet tech to fly with the dogs, but that wouldn’t have gotten them out of cargo.  Why wasn’t she willing to fly herself to go get the dogs?  Or fly with 10 family members to go get the dogs?  Or even just fly 11 Hungarian vet techs – one with each dog – to Utah to bring the dogs to her?

Barbara says she loves her dogs.  And I believe she does.  But… but but but.  The fact that she was willing to BUY them – and to then use them to breed, and I assume make at least some money from them – means that she does, on some level, see them as her property to do with as she pleases.  The shipping is just an incidental outgrowth of the belief that the dogs are property.

Her thinking is not unusual.   It is THE NORM.  In fact, it is the basis of how animals are treated in the U.S. legal system.

But this thinking does not respect the animal as a conscious creature with its own thoughts and feelings, and which has the right not to suffer needlessly .  That is the definition of a “sentient being.”

For me, treating our animals with respect as the sentient beings they are comes down to acting within a simple basic principle – if I wouldn’t allow a toddler to have a particular experience (e.g., flying in cargo), I wouldn’t let my dog or cat have that experience.

But what about Jack, you say… Karen didn’t follow that principle.  She let Jack and Barry fly in cargo (even though Jack didn’t make it that far).

True enough.  Karen made a HUGE mistake – one that can’t be taken back.  And one that she will never make again.  But it was just that – a mistake.  It was not a mistake on top of a mistake… like the one Barbara Burgett made.  And if Ms. Burgett is breeding these pups (who are now 4 years old), I would argue she is piling mistake on top of mistake on top of mistake.  All because of the belief that animals, at base, are property.

Until we change our thinking about dogs – and cats, and all of our companion animals – situations like this are going to keep happening.  There will be a hundred thousand more “breeder dogs” killed on planes without our knowledge.  A thousand more Jacks will be lost in airports, the search for them minimal if it happens at all.  Countless Toshas and Nahlas will bolt from their crates – some will be lucky and be found safely, others won’t.

So I send love and light out to Hector and the pups who died, and to the 8 survivors… yes, you were treated wrongly in your journey. But, my dear little furry friends, there were problems before you ever got on that plane…

15 thoughts on “When There’s a Problem BEFORE the Problem…

  1. I think that if you are to fly that many animals, espeiclally a mom and babies, drive to your destination, so that this would not happen. it is a very sad thing to keep reading about all this, the airlines shouled be ashamed of themselves. hope they all get there heads screwed on correctly and i hope delta airlines pays this person well.

    • Jacqui, the adult male dogs and the pups were coming to the U.S. (to Utah, actually) from the nation of Hungary, which is in Europe, bordering Austria. I don’t see how they could have driven them here…

  2. I **had** a friend whose husband “lightly” bred Dobermans and in discussion one day, I found out that he shipped a puppy to Japan! I worked for the airlines for years! You DO NOT want to ship dog or cat that far in cargo. I am no longer friends with that man and my friend is now divorced from him. His breeding dogs to make a living for himself should have been a huge red flag to her. People that breed dogs to make a living are too lazy to get up and work!

  3. Mary Beth: I have way to much to say to do it in one post but lets try. FWIW the Dogs VS Delta, blog refuses to open. Want to find out why it took four long years to file a law suit.What efforts were made previously? A web search first mention of this matter is dated May 2012.

    I do take exception to comments you make suggesting breeders look upon their animals and their offspring as property. In the early 1960’s I raised and breed miniature poodles and I can assure you I loved each baby as if it was mine. I carefully picked buyer’s who would feel as I did and treasure them. All my puppies new parents keep in contact until their fur-babies passed over to what we now refer to as The Rainbow Bridge. (Such a wonderful place)

    In later years I was adopted by many mixed blood cats and dogs Then 1997 I acquired a retired three year old Turkish Van Cat show cat, “Little Boy Blue” who passed to the Bridge last August. To ease my grief I purchased another Turkish Van, months later. Since then a LHD kitty adopted me. Does my purchasing an animal make me less fit as a loving parent? Of coarse not! In addition I belong to an international group that raises and promotes the welfare of the Turkish Van breed. Trust me these fine folk don’t consider their fur-babies, property. They love each and everyone of those kitties. They are not sold as property. Yes they may be adopted out but family conditions of the new family are looked into. Money is secondary to these people. I know since I have adopted two and paid far less than the cost the breeder incurred raising them for two years. Please don’t make the mistake of combining quality breeders with those puppy mills that we all wish were shut down.

    Glad that’s off my chest! I support you and all that you are doing to make “Jack’s Law” a reality. I know Jack is with my Blue Boy at the Bridge: Both having the time of their lives. Amen…

    • Bill, I don’t think all breeders are the same… indeed, quality breeders ALWAYS do a home and vet check before they release an animal to anyone else. I don’t know if the person in Turkey did this, but I somehow doubt it. I don’t think buying an animal necessarily means you love the animal any less, and I do support responsible breed preservation. Puppy mills AND backyard breeders (different things!) both harm the breeds they sell, and the dog and cat world at large. Unfortunately, both the mills and the backyard breeders provide alot of shipping business to the airlines… and any difficulties these animals face is not currently documented because of the law’s definition of “pet.” Adoption definitely minimizes these problems (and saves a life!)… though rescue groups face the same problems with getting animals to new homes that commercial breeders do. Thanks for your continuing support!!

      • Thanks Mary Beth you reply is music to my ears. We are on the same page. I expected no less from you. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. No reply necessary; you have said it all . Let’s put our efforts into passage of a “Jack’s Law”

  4. thank you Mary Beth for your wrtings and always keeping us posted and aware.

  5. ceo s upstairs are too busy counting their money to care about what goes on in the baggage dept. The tiny little hearts that stop beating mean nothing to them!!!

  6. As someone who has adopted children internationally (both now grown), I know that the process is not free from some of the issues of buying and selling pets, though it is better than it was twenty years ago when I was going through the system. True, you cannot send a child alone to their new family, but airline regulations require children below a certain age to be escorted anyway. But had I adopted a sibling group – no matter how large – I would have been able to taken them in the cabin with me as their only escort (though I’d have been crazy to do it!). It isn’t reasonable that someone who is traveling with their two children (no matter how badly behaved) can have them with them, but the same person can’t bring two well-behaved pets into the cabin.

  7. This is a tragedy on so many levels… why couldn’t she purchase ELEVEN (11 !) dogs from a local, reputable breeder… because a local, reputable breeder would’ve never sold her eleven dogs AND a breeding female. why was she doing business with a foreign puppy mill… perhaps she was concerned with local/state laws. And again, who suffers in the end? The defenseless animals.

  8. i think you will find that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic refuse to carry any ‘pug’ nosed / Boxer type dog s as they can have trouble with their breathing at high altitudes. Isn’t a French Bulldog such a breed ?

  9. (1) @ Bill re your comment “FWIW the Dogs VS Delta, blog refuses to open.”

    Try this link: http://www.dogsvsdelta.com/

    (2) I as a young man I purchased a baby Chihuahua from another state. The puppy was flown to my state. What I received was a beautiful puppy who was as it turned out emotionally hurt. I can only assume it was from being treated like cargo or some other mistreatment. I loved him for the rest of his life. I “purchased” this little guy as I had a wonderful experience with a rescued Chihuahua I found abandoned on the road… Based on this experience I have only welcomed kitkats and puppy dogs that are local and need a home. Now due to my age I will only rescue older animals.

  10. The reason this person bought these animals in Hungary is not the issue at point. Whether these animals were considered property isn’t the issue either. What is most important is that this woman paid Delta to transport these animals and trusted Delta to get her cargo to the US, SAFE & ALIVE. How upset do we get when an airline loses a piece of our luggage? I know I start to sweat when that carousel has gone around a couple of times and I don’t see my red bag! Why is it so difficult for Delta or any airline to transport animals and not be able to ensure that they will A. arrive at their destination and B. not be suffering from injuries, illnesses or even be dead? If the airlines are not capable of doing just this, then why do they offer the service? Whether these animals are considered property (which they are under most laws) or they are members of a family shouldn’t come into play. They are still living and breathing, unlike a piece of luggage. If Delta or any airline is lax in how they treat animals during transport, then they need to be accountable for animal abuse and neglect. This is a huge fail for Delta, just as Jack was. They, as well as any other airline that doesn’t treat the living cargo with the respect and care that it deserves should be accountable for their actions.

  11. Thank you, Mary Beth, for continuing Jack’s legacy for the love and safety of the animals. Little Jackie (the boxed cat at JFK) has become a lap cat instead of another abused and murdered cat, and she was found searching for our beautiful Jack. It’s always about the animals, and only about the animals. My best to you and Karen.

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