Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets

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Pet Air Incidents Through June 2013

As I reported two months ago, the DoT Air Incident Reports often fail to list one or more pet incidents that happened in any given month.  The case of Victor, Lacy Horner’s dog that was lost by Hawaiian Air (and recovered  – safely! – after a month), was finally added to the report during the next month.  This only happened because we sent information from Ms. Horner AND several news stories to our contact at the DoT.  Similarly another incident was also missing last month and was added to this latest report.

We wish the airlines would take their responsibilities more seriously and do the MINIMAL amount of reporting they have been mandated to do in a timely manner.

We also wish the government was willing to administer stringent penalties for failure to report.  Maybe the airlines would take this more seriously if there was a price to pay for failing to do so.

Our work goes on and on, unfortunately…

The latest version of Where Is Jack? Inc.’s complete inventory of Pet Air Incidents is available  at this link: petairincinvthru0613.xlsx


Avoid the Perils of TSA Screening (with video!)

As those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, traveling with a pet is difficult – and dealing with the airlines is not the only challenge. The case of Xiaowha highlighted how tragedy can happen as a result of the security screening process for pets who are traveling internationally. And my own experience with flying Maggie the cat to Bozeman, Montana (see Facebook posts from January 2013 for more about our journey) taught me that asking for what you need using TSA’s language (e.g., PRIVATE SCREENING) is critical to keeping your furry baby safe when you travel.


Kitten and transporter doing TSA check-in at DFW, 7/7/13.

But what if TSA isn’t following their own procedures?

On July 7, 2013, a shelter cat (8-week-old kitten, actually) from Arlington, TX was being transported from Dallas-Fort Worth airport to Seattle-Tacoma airport via Alaska Airlines. The transporter was someone who had answered a CraigsList ad looking for help with a transport. She was not an experienced handler. An experienced and travel-savvy volunteer from the shelter (FoJ Debbie Daugherty McClendon) accompanied the transporter in their dealings with Alaska Airlines and to the TSA screening line. Ms. McClendon requested that the transporter and kitten be placed in a private screening room, but she was told that no such thing existed at that location. They asked another agent and were then told the same thing. At that point, the transporter became uncomfortable with pressing on the TSA officers for private screening, took the kitten out of the bag, and carried her through screening while the bag went through the conveyor belt x-ray machine. LUCKILY, nothing happened. Kitten was returned to its carrier, and kitten and transporter made it to Sea-Tac and to the kitten’s new family and home without any problem.

The WIJ team was HORRIFIED by this whole incident. The TSA website clearly states that “passengers can request private screening at any time” – implying that private screening is always available!! Where, then, were the private screening facilities at this terminal in DFW – a huge and busy airport??

It took a little time, but the TSA did finally give us some information. Their response:

“At the E15/16 checkpoints, we do not have the facilities of a “private room”
however, the private screening is completed away from the checkpoint in
another facility that is semi private. If you fly regularly with this
airline you might want to go through the E8 checkpoint where we do have
a “private room” in the checkpoint.”

So, it seems, there is more code to know.  The bottom line is, though, that at particular gates in particular airports it may not always be possible for TSA to do a private screening that will allow us to fly safely with animals — and particularly with a cat or kitten.

In response to this information, we’ve made a little video to explain a procedure that provides a some insurance in case you and your cat or kitten ever find yourself in the predicament that Debbie Daugherty McClendon and that transporter found themselves in. You don’t want to have to rely on luck – especially if your kitty is more than a few weeks old!!

(And if you’re interested, the cat harness pictured in the video is available from our friend Lisa at DryFur.tv – tell her Jack sent you!!)


Pet Air Travel Incidents Through March 2013… EXCEPT (at least) ONE!!

Feel free to download our most updated inventory of the Pet Air Incidents as reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation through March, 2013.


Interestingly, we know they’ve missed at least one incident. Well, the DoT didn’t exactly miss it…. Hawaiian Airlines failed to report it.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 5.29.22 PMOn March 24, the Horner family was moving from Honolulu to Los Angeles with their two dogs when one of the dogs – Victor – escaped when his crate fell from the loading ramp. Victor’s escape received media coverage from KHON, as did his reunion with his owner one month later.

I became aware of the incident when Laci Horner contacted me through Facebook about a week after the dog was lost.

The incident fits all the criteria for reporting by Hawaiian Air – Victor was traveling with his owners and was lost for “more than a few hours.”

Why didn’t Hawaiian Air report it??

I don’t have an answer for that, but I think most of you know what I’m thinking… they didn’t report it because THERE IS NO ONE TO MAKE SURE THAT ALL INCIDENTS ARE REPORTED.

How many more incidents actually happened in March that weren’t reported?  WHO KNOWS!!!

I asked our contact at the Department of Transportation to explain how the DoT cross-checks to make sure that airlines are reporting all incidents that occurred.

He replied that he would check into this, but failed to answer my question about cross-checking.

Shocking. NOT.

If you hear about an incident of a pet being lost, injured or killed while in the care of an airline, please contact me through this blog, through our Facebook page (Jack the Cat is Lost in AA Baggage at JFK) or call me or drop me a text at 305-582-5884.

Mary Beth


Pet Air Travel Incidents Through February 2013

WHERE IS JACK? INC.  has created a spreadsheet that serves as a database for of all Pet Air Incidents that the DOT has reported since the current rule went into effect in May 2005.  We update this spreadsheet every month with the latest incidents.  (Particular thanks to Bonnie Wagner-Westbrook for her dedication in creating and updating this inventory!)

Below please find the latest update to our spreadsheet (through incidents reported in February 2013) , which now details 354 cases of animals being lost, injured or killed while in the care of the airlines during domestic (U.S.) travel.  This only includes animals who were lost, injured or killed while traveling with their guardian – meaning no incidents involving an animal who was lost, injured or killed while traveling for breeding or for commercial sale was recorded.

Please feel free to review and share this information widely.  If using this information for commercial purposes, please give credit to WHERE IS JACK? INC.

Click here to download the most complete inventory:  PetAirIncInv0213


The Lessons of Xiaohwa – PART 2

Dear Readers… this is Part 2 of a what turned out to be an incredibly long post about what we are learning (and have learned) during the search for Xiaowha, a cat that was lost at JFK airport in October.  For Part I, click here.  Part 3 will be posted tomorrow…


When Jack went missing, I was shocked when Karen texted me.  We spoke seconds later.  She told me she was down in the baggage area where he had gone missing… and she had been looking for him for the previous 15 minutes but with no luck. “This is HUGE down here.  HUGE.  I can’t even describe it.”

And I understood.  But I didn’t REALLY understand.  I didn’t truly understand until the good folks at JFK took us into the baggage system to look for Xiaohwa.


Now I need to make a comparison here… Think about the Grand Canyon.  You see pictures of the Grand Canyon and you understand it’s huge, but what a picture conveys to you is about 1/1 millionth of the sheer size, beauty and majesty of actually being there.  Still, it’s better than not knowing anything about the Grand Canyon at all.

The baggage system at any major airport is kind of like the Grand Canyon – you know it’s big and complex, but you can’t even really begin to understand the hugeness and the complexity until you’re there.  And a picture is a start, but again – it conveys about 1/1 millionth of the reality.

Below you’ll find a picture of the baggage system at Denver Airport – one of the newest and supposedly most efficient baggage systems in the U.S.  The picture gives you some idea of the sheer enormity and the complexity of the system – but remember that the Denver Airport is about 20% of the size of JFK.  And the JFK system is much older – less efficient and with even more nooks and crannies.


Take a good look at this picture – there are about a million places for a kitty to hide.  And many of them – maybe most of them – are in motion, with belts and cogs and motors and all kinds of noise.  Kitties and moving parts are not usually a good combination.  Particularly for a scared kitty who’s trying to be in a small, safe, quiet place.

And then multiply this picture by a thousand – because this is what a space the size of a football field looks like.  And ground to ceiling is about 25 feet.  With machinery from floor to just below the ceiling.

AND what you don’t see here is that there are also hundreds of ways to get outside.  Because the baggage is not staying in the building, there are huge open doors (really, open WALLS) to let big trucks carry baggage to and from this mechanical hell out into the gate areas — which of course are open to the runways.  Which are then open to the whole world… the fences that surround airports don’t really mean much to a frightened cat. (And they aren’t even a good way to contain a frightened lost dog.)

And the baggage area is just one part of the airport.  Jack was in the ceiling the whole time – but when he fell out in the Customs & Border Patrol office, he was a loooooooong way from where his journey began.

Not to mention – if anyone does find it, what happens then? 1/100 people that see it will make the effort to catch it and submit it to the right authorities in the airport (and you know how hard it is to catch a kitty that doesn’t want to be caught without knowing all their pet food info first) – since most people tend to be in a rush in an airport. An animal that is lost at an airport might as well be lost in the Grand Canyon.  Especially if there is no one searching for them from the moment they are lost.

During the Jack search, so many well-intentioned people were telling us what to do and where to look (look up!  look under!).  And we did everything we could do – largely because so many kind and devoted people put in time and effort over the course of 61 days.  But the combination of the complexity of searching for a lost cat in a HUGE building with an untold number of nooks and crannies AND not even having access to search because of airport security guidelines made the situation nearly impossible.

And Xiaohwa has given us the opportunity to learn even more about how incredibly difficult it is to look for an animal lost at an airport.

I just hope this will be our last opportunity to learn these lessons… though history suggests that will not be the case.


The Lessons of Xiaohwa

Dear Friends of Jack and other readers:

This turned out to be a long post, addressing a multitude of issues.  I will be posting one section each day until the whole post is up.  Your comments on each section are appreciated and welcomed…

It’s been over a year since Jack’s gone missing.  Unfortunately, the Where Is Jack? Inc. team has been made aware of or been involved with several cases of animals being lost at airports during the last 15 months: Jack, of course; George in Canada; Wenty at SeaTac; Nahla at LaGuardia (RIP); Clara/Tosha at JFK; and now, Xiaohwa – and that’s not all of them.  We had already learned so much, but the lessons that Xioahwa is teaching us may be the most difficult – and the most important.


We didn’t find out Xiaohwa was missing until she had been gone for a week.  A week is a long time when an animal is lost.  If the animal is lost outside, they can travel a LONG WAY in a week.  If they are lost inside, they will have had time to find the most hidden space, away from noise – and people.  It is still possible to find a pet that has been lost for a week, but every day a pet is lost, makes it increasingly more difficult to find that pet – or even to know where to look.XiaoHwa2

This highlights a particular problem that occurs when a pet is lost in an airport or during air travel – WHAT SHOULD A PET GUARDIAN DO??  The pet guardian is away from their home, in an environment that is at least somewhat unfamiliar, and they have no authority to move around the airport freely.  Many times, they are scheduled to get on a flight.  Most pet guardians have no idea what to do when their pet goes missing.  They feel they are left to rely on either the airline or the airport authority.

When Jack went missing Karen texted me immediately.  The airline had told her Jack had been lost, but to get on the plane and they would find him.  She was already in stressful situation – this was the last step in moving 3000 miles away – but when AA lost Jack, she found herself in a dramatically more tense situation.  And with absolutely no idea what to do to move forward.

And quite honestly, when she texted me, I had no idea what to do, either.  I was walking my dog, and on the way home it hit me – FACEBOOK.  I began to work the social network to look for help. And so the movement was born…

But honestly, it wasn’t the most effective strategy for finding Jack. It didn’t get Jack found any sooner. And ultimately, because he was without food or water for 61 days, it didn’t keep him alive.

And even more importantly, we have not been able to keep other animals from being lost. Nor have we been able to create a clear path for people to follow when their pets are lost in an airport (or on a plane).

Just as when Jack was lost, the distraught pet parent is still told by the airlines that “they will find the pet” as they are boarded on the plane.  Or the TSA flatly states that it isn’t their problem – leaving the guardian in an even more difficult situation.

But the true bottom line is this: no one working for any airline, in any airport, is truly charged with responding to the emergency situation that is created when a pet is lost.  THERE ARE NO TRUE FIRST RESPONDERS.

And we have not yet been able to change this.

Part II: The Lessons of Xiaohwa – Losing a Pet in an Airport is Not Much Different than Losing a Pet in the Grand Canyon… will be posted tomorrow.


Responding to the Department of Transportation…

In late June, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent out a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” – in essence, they were asking the public to comment on a change they (the DoT) was considering making in how “Pet Air Incidents” would be reported.  Here is what they were thinking about doing:

Seems pretty straightforward, right?  Well, in looking back at the comments from when the rule was originally made, we knew it wouldn’t be.  So we got to work drafting a LOOOOOOONNG and fairly complicated document that would try to counter all the arguments that we thought the airlines, commercial breeders, and others who would not want to see this rule would come up with.  In its final form, the document is 89 pages!!  (This includes a listing of every incident that has been reported since 2005.).  If you’d like to read the whole thing, you can do that HERE.

But to make this a little easier, I’m posting the section titled “Discussion and Recommendations” for you to read here.  It sums up the main points we made pretty nicely.  Your thoughts and comments are, of course, always welcome!!  Enjoy!!!

Discussions and Recommendations

WHERE IS JACK? INC. supports the three amendments to 14 CFR 234.13 as proposed by the Department of Transportation and recommends that they be adopted immediately. All animals that travel by air must be counted equally.  In addition, we would also recommend the Department of Transportation consider two additional amendments to the proposed rule to more completely fulfill PL 106-181, Section 710: §41721(b), which states, “The Secretary shall work with air carriers to improve the training of employees with respect to the air transport of animals and the notification of passengers of the conditions under which the air transport of animals is conducted.”

  • FIRST, we ask that the Department require air carriers to follow-up and report on all incidents if they are not resolved at the time of the original filing, providing follow-up reporting for up to one year or until the incident is resolved (whichever time is shorter).
  • SECOND, we ask that the Department require airlines to use the information they have already collected in their incident reports to identify and implement preventative measures that can be put into place to guarantee safe travel for all animals.

That said, we do recognize that air carriers are in a difficult position in responding to these requirements, and feel that some discussion is warranted.

Americans are now guardians to 78.2 million dogs and 86.4 million cats; almost two-thirds of U.S. households have at least one dog or one cat, and many have more than one pet, or even one or more of each species. Americans spend – literally – hundreds of millions of dollars per year on their pets, and increasingly, more and more pet owners view their dogs and cats as dependents, in much the same way they view or have viewed their human children.

While people who view pets as “just animals” may not understand how a person could equate their dog or cat with a child, science is consistently finding that animals are not only sentient beings – having the ability to be conscious and perceive specific situations with their own perspective – they are also both cognitively and socially intelligent as well. Like human toddlers, most dogs (and many cats) learn to associate words with specific objects, and respond to their guardians’ moods and feelings. They seek to run from situations that scare them, and they respond positively to other creatures who are inviting. This combination of sentience, cognitive ability and social adaptability is what makes domestic animals different from their wild counterparts, and why humans have chosen to incorporate these creatures into their lives.

Our growing knowledge about the richness of the lives of dogs, cats, and other domesticated creatures stands in stark contrast to a system where animals are treated as property to be bought and sold and are shipped by air with little regard for their travel experience in the cargo hold of a plane. Many commercial breeders (most commonly of dogs, but also of cats) regard their “product” – puppies or kittens – in the same way another businessperson would regard their product – such as electronics or widgets or beer mugs. Like all “manufacturers,” commercial breeders are resigned to the fact that some “product” will be broken, lost, or even stolen while being shipped – and a certain amount of “loss” is considered acceptable. But in its very nature as a living creature, a “broken” or “lost” animal is not the same as a crushed iPad. For many people, and for all those in the animal care advocate community, a dog who emerges from a flight overheated and dehydrated is not just “unsalable” – it is a sick, helpless creature who is suffering because of the conditions created by the actions (or inactions) of humans. The same is true for all animals who have been transported – from primates to parakeets. For many animal care advocates, it is particularly disturbing to learn that most of the errors that lead to “incidents” are both anticipatable and preventable, yet none of the responsible parties chose to act in the best interests of the animal.

The 14 CFR 234.13 regulations in their current form took the pressure off airlines by relieving them of the responsibility to report on the commercial dog and cat trade, and only making them responsible to report on pets travelling with their guardians. This was the best outcome that air carriers – and commercial breeders – could have hoped for. Air carriers felt they should not be held responsible for the assumed inevitable injuries and deaths of the large number of commercially-salable dogs and cats that they would be transporting for delivery to pet stores and private individuals – animals who may already have serious health problems even before boarding a plane. Commercial breeders certainly did not want the purchasing public to have access to how many of those “cute puppies and kitties” playing in the pet store windows had littermates who had died or were lost or injured en route. The regulations in their current form allow the commercial breeder system to be maintained – without any reference to the price paid by the animals. Unfortunately, occasionally (and if we are to believe the reports, “occasionally” means about every 10 days) – the price was also paid by pets already integrated into a family when air carriers’ less than careful practices and procedures caused them to be lost, injured or die.

Adoption of the proposed amendments to 14 CFR 234.13 is likely to place the workings of the commercial dog and cat trade squarely in the public eye. Strong opposition from the ATA, airlines, breeders, and the AKC itself is likely to be heard. All of these entities have a great deal of money at stake in this issue and may not see the safe and comfortable care of travelling animals as their highest priority.

But knowing that the amended regulations may negatively impact the finances of breeders, carriers and registries is not actually relevant to the bottom-line intention of the original legislation. These regulations are designed to provide information to the public regarding the safety of animals when those animals are travelling by air.

If an air carrier accepts an animal that is not fit to fly, just as that carrier is willing to take the fee for the transport, so too must the carrier be willing to accept the responsibility for participating in the injury, death or possible loss of the animal.

Indeed, air carriers are in no way obligated to accept that responsibility. In December 2011, the Reno Gazette-Journal carried the story of Lynn Jones, a baggage handler employed by Airport Terminal Services, who had been fired for refusing to load a dog that was described as “… emaciated … paws bloody … body covered with sores” onto an aircraft.

As the newspaper reported:

Jones said her supervisor told her to load the dog on the plane because the animal’s paperwork was in order and its condition wasn’t her concern. She said she was warned she would lose her job if she kept carrying on about the dog. … Jones said she was fired from her job on the spot.

The story received national attention and Jones was eventually re-hired. This story highlights the many pressures airlines face as they are asked to account for the animals in their care.

Most baggage handling is not performed by actual airline employees. Companies like Airport Terminal Services, Swissport, and a host of others compete to provide this service – at the lowest cost possible to the airline. If their actions – such as holding a dog back from flying – consistently cost the airline money, renewal of the contract may be in jeopardy. In addition, in many large-city locations, baggage handlers are often immigrants who may have a different view of animals (and particularly dogs and cats) than many middle-class Americans have. A baggage handler having different cultural values and beliefs about companion animals may have seen what Ms. Jones saw, but not have seen it as a problem, and might have loaded the animal on the plane. The dog may have then died in flight.

The airlines are likely to resist expansion of reporting regulations because of concerns about circumstances like these – and the effort that correcting these conditions might entail. Ultimately, though, it is the responsibility of the carrier to make clear to anyone loading animals on to their planes that the safety of the animal must come first. Just as an airline is responsible to make clear to sub-contracted mechanics that the most important thing is that the plane is able to operate safely, the carrier must also make the safety standard for pets crystal clear to all relevant sub-contractors and employees. There is now a substantial portion of the American public that does not support the callous and inhumane treatment of pets, and wishes to make decisions to support or avoid particular companies with this information in mind.

The public’s right to know about the safety of animals travelling by air should not be compromised by the commercial needs of airlines, breeders, and registries. All animal care advocates do not require that commercial breeding and transport be halted, but there is an ever-growing segment of the American citizenry that is saying that safe and humane transport of animals is not only possible, but must be required. Full and transparent reporting of the outcome of animal transport by the airlines is an absolutely necessary component of that mandate, and we support all efforts by the Department of Transportation to require all parties involved in transporting animals to take this work very seriously.