Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets


The Rudy Incident


Rudy before he was shipped. Photo via Peterbald Kittens Canada on Facebook.

I’ve been mulling over “the Rudy incident” since it happened.  Rudy – the 4-month-old hairless kitten that was lost earlier this month by Delta at ATL – was being transported by a breeder in British Columbia, Canada, to a family near Tampa, Florida.  Here are some of the thoughts I had in regard to “the Rudy incident”:

1.  Where Is Jack? Inc. exists to advocate on behalf of all animals who have been lost, injured or killed while in the hands of the airlines.  This happens without regard to the animal’s history, temperament, age, or any other condition.  Any creature that is in the care of the airline (meaning being shipped as cargo or checked baggage) deserves to be handled with dignity and respect.  PERIOD.  And we are here to help them when they are in need.

2.  We advocate for the safety of animals, but we understand that an animal traveling as cargo or checked baggage is, by definition, in danger.  Animals should not be shipped as cargo or checked baggage except under the most extreme circumstances.  Rudy was shipped by a breeder to a family who had purchased him for a substantial sum of money (an amount I believe was in excess of $1000).  When I spoke with the breeder on the morning I found out Rudy was lost, she told me how she had “driven all the way to Seattle to use Delta, because they were the safest.”  She had clearly done this before.  And it seems she’s learned NOTHING from this whole experience…

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Terrifying.  Utterly TERRIFYING.

Selling a cat to a person on the diagonally opposite side of the continent does not, in my view, constitute something that must happen.  And if it is something that does happen, the responsible thing to do is for someone to FLY WITH THAT KITTEN UNDER THE SEAT.  The only reason Rudy was shipped as cargo was because it was convenient for both the seller and the purchaser.  But was it convenient for Rudy?  Lost for three days in ATL?  I don’t think so.  And more importantly, it wasn’t fair to him – NOT FAIR AT ALL.

There are responsible breeders out there who do not allow their animals to travel alone, and who do not even allow an animal to stay in a home they haven’t personally checked themselves.  If you are dedicated to a particular breed of animal, find a RESPONSIBLE breeder.  And if you can’t find that breeder, we’ll help you.  But DON’T ship an animal by air alone unless it’s an absolute emergency!

3.  Delta understood that they had to make finding Rudy a priority.  Kudos! When Jack got lost and I called the folks at American Airlines at JFK, they said “don’t worry – the last time this happened we starved him out and found him in about a month.” AAAAARGH!!!!  Nothing like that this time!  The folks on the ground at Delta at ATL were understanding, responsive and beyond professional.  The head of the crew at the D gates (where Rudy was lost) gave up his Saturday – without pay! – to bring in a search dog and handler team.  This is critical – it’s not when things are going right that we see what a company is all about… it’s how they handle situations when things go wrong.  Delta showed some corporate integrity in this situation.  If the only thing that has gotten better in the last four years – since Jack was lost – is that the airlines are responsive when an animal is lost, then at least some progress has been made.

4.  After Rudy was lost, the family did alot of things right!  They reached out, they found an advocate in the Atlanta area, they found a search and handler team that was available to go in the next day, they offered a reward, they started a Facebook page – these folks really got in there and did what needed to be done!  The most important thing you can do if your dog or cat is lost, injured or killed while in the care of the airlines is to LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!!  The more you can get the word out, the more help you will get… and that is the key to finding your furbaby while they’re still safe and sound! (Bonus: it also lets other people know that bad things do happen when pets fly in cargo – a message they won’t get from the airlines.)

5.  I have said this privately for some time now, and I will say it publicly now… as far as animals and travel, IF YOU WOULDN’T DO IT WITH A THREE-YEAR-OLD CHILD, DON’T DO IT WITH AN ANIMAL.  If you’re not ok with putting your 3-year-old on a plane without someone she knows to watch over her, don’t do it with a dog or cat.  If you’re not ok with putting your 3-year-old in the cargo hold of the plane, don’t do it with a dog or cat.  Cats and dogs generally have the vocabulary, intelligence and emotional response patterns usually seen in 3-year-old humans… so if you wouldn’t do it with a 3-year-old, don’t do it with a dog or cat!!

I’m glad Rudy was found, and that he is now safely ensconced in his home with his family. And I hope everyone involved learned something from what happened.  Rudy’s the only one who’s off the hook at this point… the rest of us have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent this from ever happening again.

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Pet Air Incident Reports Through July 2013

Below you will find the latest update to our comprehensive Pet Air Incident Report.  The latest entries are at the bottom.  In July 2013,  the airlines reported 5 deaths and 1 injury, involving 4 dogs, 1 cat and 1 ferret.  If you have any questions – or if you know of an animal that was lost, injured or killed while in the care of the airlines – please don’t hesitate to message us or contact Where Is Jack? Inc. Founder/CEO Mary Beth Melchior directly at 305-582-5884.

Pet Incident INVENTORY May 2005_August 2013


The Lessons of Two Years

Art by Lee Tingle.

Art by Lee Tingle.

Yesterday, we recognized and honored the second anniversary of Jack “going missing” – an understated way of saying that American Airlines illegally stacked the crates that he and Barry were traveling in, Jack’s crate fell and opened, and he took off and went into hiding.  Since that day, a huge amount of my time has been devoted to learning about all the ways that air travel is currently unsafe for animals, and thinking about ways to change that.

Over the course of the last 2 years, we have learned that there are not one, not two, but at least FOUR relevant players in creating safer air travel for pets:

  • Airlines: they were our first focus and they continue to be extremely important, especially for pets who are flying in cargo.  (And yes, I believe that no animal should fly in cargo, but we’re nowhere even close to that point.)
    • There is NO AIRLINE ACCOUNTABILITY for the vast majority of animals who currently fly in cargo.  These animals are flown as “commercial cargo” – generally by commercial breeders who have sold their animals either to an individual or to a retailer (read: puppy store).  If one of these animals is lost, injured or killed, the airlines do not report the incident under the law as it is currently written.  These laws are currently being reconsidered and Where Is Jack? Inc. has weighed in strongly on this matter.  The bureaucratic wheels are turning slowly, but we know that all comments have been read and the Department of Transportation is moving forward toward changing how airlines report on animals lost, injured and killed  while in their care.
    • In many cases, it is not actual airline employees but SUBCONTRACTORS who handle animals who are flying in cargo.  As was made clear in the case of Lynn Jones in Reno, most baggage is handled by employees of smaller companies – thus relieving the airlines themselves of the requirements of training workers and insuring that any LIVE ANIMAL who is transported via checked baggage or cargo is handled appropriately.  This makes our work much more difficult – it is not just a few airlines we need to deal with, but literally hundreds of small companies hired by the airlines.  The companies themselves are frequently changed, and there is high turnover within each company (as is generally the case with minimum wage jobs).  Advocating for high quality animal transport within this system turns out to be extremely difficult.
  • Airport Management: before Jack went missing, I had never even given a thought to who – if anyone – manages the airport as a whole.  Turns out this a a whole industry unto itself!!  And guess what — it’s even more complicated than the airline industry!!!  Airports can be managed by quasi-governmental organizations (like the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which manages JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports); they can be managed by cities (like the Philadelphia airport); they can be managed by private companies; and they can be managed by some combination of all of these (example: JFK airport is managed as a whole by the Port Authority, but Terminal 4 is managed by a private company (JFKIAT, LLC).  Why does this matter?  If you have an animal lost anywhere in the airport, you are going to have to deal with airport management.  And some management structures are much easier to deal with than others.
  • TSA: The Transportation Safety Administration screening process is THE SINGLE ENTITY THAT EVERYONE TRAVELLING WITH A PET is going to have to deal with, whether your pet is traveling with you in-cabin or flying as checked baggage or cargo.  And TSA has absolutely positively no responsibility if something goes wrong and your pet gets loose during the screening process.  We first learned about this hazard with the case of Xiaohwa, and this has been a focus of our attention for most of the last year.  We have been in contact with TSA, advocating that they change their procedures so that private screening is mandated for all animals.   We also want everyone to know that this is a vulnerable point for anyone travelling with an animal, and we seek to educate travelers so they can take appropriate action to keep their pet safe during the TSA screening process.
  • The Federal Bureaucracy (especially the Department of Transportation (DoT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Justice (DoJ, which implements the Americans with Disabilties Act): The DoT determines the reporting requirements for airlines transporting pets – thus (currently) giving the airlines the ability to obfuscate how many animals really are lost injured or killed.  The FAA will let you buy a seat for your cello, but won’t let you buy a seat for a dog crate that won’t fit under the seat.   The Americans with Disabilities Act governs the rules surrounding not only service animals but emotional support animals – which allows many people to travel with animals that are too big to fit under the seat.  In short – there are many parts of the U.S. national government which have some say in how animals are treated when they fly.

And when we put all this information together, what we learn is this:  it is very difficult to get anyone to take REAL RESPONSIBILITY if an animal is injured or killed while flying.  And if an animal is lost – like Jack was – it’s going to take incredible effort to just get through the bureaucracy to search.

What We Can Do
Where Is Jack? Inc. has evolved into a small core group of volunteers who do two things:

  1. We EDUCATE and ADVOCATE.  We provide instructional materials for pet guardians who are traveling.  We write this blog to keep the issue in the public eye.  We contact vets with information they can provide to their clients to help keep traveling pets safe.  We contact airlines, airport managers, government agencies, and other animal-welfare organizations to expose current problems and suggest solutions.  We contact the media with information and stories.  We do everything we can to make sure that no one involved with traveling pets – from pet guardians to the Department of Transportation – thinks pets and air travel is something to be taken lightly.
  2. We ASSIST IN EMERGENCY SITUATIONS.  If an animal is lost, injured or killed, we want to help.  Most of the time, this means making the story public – and after two years, we have media contacts in a wide range of markets who know that we are very serious about the issue of pet air travel safety.  They take our calls, and they listen.  We can also assist if an animal is lost at an airport – we have experience contacting airport management at a variety of locations, and should the situation warrant it, we have many “tracking dog” contacts.  We can ask the army of FoJs to come out and create awareness by passing out flyers about the lost animal.  We want to help in any way we can!!   (Interestingly, though, one of the big lessons we have learned since Jack was found is  that the pet guardian his- or herself is the most important person in the search process, and we can only go as far as that person is willing to go.  In several recent cases, pet guardians have been unwilling or unable to pay for things like making flyers or hiring a tracking dog [which can cost as much as $3000-5000] – and we simply can’t do more than the pet guardian is willing to do.)

Make no mistake – FLYING WITH AN ANIMAL IS COMPLEX.  We’re trying to make it simpler, and most importantly, SAFER.  Thank you for your continued support!!!

PLEASE TELL ANYONE YOU MEET WHO IS TRAVELING WITH AN ANIMAL ABOUT THIS WEBSITE.  We want to make sure all animals have a safe, pleasant and uneventful journey!!!