This is the first of a four-part series. Read Part 2 here.
It all started in 2011: Jack was lost by American Airlines on August 25. Two excruciatingly long months later, Jack was “found” when he fell through the ceiling of the Customs and Border Patrol Office in the AA terminal at JFK. Then after 12 days, he had to be humanely euthanized because he didn’t have the strength to heal his wounds.
I thought that was as low as things could go. I was heartbroken – but I vowed to work hard to keep what had happened to Jack from happening again. I knew it would be a battle, but it seemed like a worthwhile fight. Most importantly – it seemed like a fight that could be won. After all – we didn’t want anything from the airlines but for them to fulfill the responsibilities they had assumed when they agreed to fly pets.
Of course it wasn’t as simple as “getting the airlines to fulfill their responsibilities.” But that was alright – it would be more work than anyone originally thought, but the mission was still do-able. We could work with sub-contracted baggage handlers. We could work with airports. We could work with pet parents.We could DO THIS! Jack’s legacy would be fulfilled!!
And then the incidents kept coming. Xiaowha – never found, but we learned so much. Tosha – found and reunited with her family. Cats and dogs lost in and around airports in New York, Seattle, San Diego, Edmonton, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Trenton. We helped as best we could. Some were found and reunited with their families. Some crossed over the Bridge. Every time was an emergency. And every time was exhausting.
On top of working to find lost animals, we were also working to fix “the system.” We presented information to the management team at JFK to help them respond effectively when an animal is lost on the property. We filed with the Department of Transportation when they asked for comments about their proposed rule change (a change we supported, though we didn’t think it went far enough). And we sent information to vets across the nation about the dangers of flying a pet as cargo/checked baggage – because all pets have to have a veterinary health certificate issued not more than 30 days before flying.
And there was a moment of satisfaction – the Department of Transportation did create a new rule that required airlines to report ALL domestic animals that were lost, injured or killed while in their care. This was a small – but significant – victory. No longer would dogs and cats shipped by breeders or for other commercial purposes not count. Their lives would matter just as much as an animal traveling with his or her family.
But then it happened. Just months after the new rule went into effect, Delta announced it would no longer be accepting pets as “checked baggage” – they would be flying as “cargo.” This meant that “animal incidents” would not have to be counted, because they were no longer part of the passenger air travel system. “Cargo” is a different category of transport than “luggage.” United followed suit with their “PetSafe” program soon after.
The minimal amount of accountability we had fought to secure was now undermined. And there it was: the bottom line. The airlines would always find a way to make the rules work for them, so they could continue to say what the public wanted to hear, and continue to make money for their C-suite inhabitants and shareholders. No animal’s life would ever be as important as bringing in the dollars.
This absolutely kicked me to the curb. I was ready to give up.
I felt as though we were fighting a game that couldn’t be won. The airlines would effectively work around the rules of the game any time they wanted. And there was no one to hold them accountable when they did lost, injured or killed an animal in their care.
Where Is Jack? is the only entity in the country (that I am aware of) that is working to make air travel safe for pets. We simply did not have the stick – or even the carrot – that would make it possible to beat the airlines at their own game.
If I kept going at this in this way, it was going to kill me.
So, I stepped away.
I thought maybe we were done. It all seemed too sad.
And why am I telling you this? So that you will understand that nothing ended when Jack crossed the Bridge. Jack was just the very very beginning of the story.