Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets


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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


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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…

LESSON 2:  LOSING AN ANIMAL IN AN AIRPORT IS NO DIFFERENT THAN LOSING AN ANIMAL IN THE GRAND CANYON.

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.

grandcanyon

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.

denverbag5

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.


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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.

LESSON 1:  EARLY INTERVENTION IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE.

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.


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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.


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When There’s a Problem BEFORE the Problem…

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…


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More Deaths… and a New Voice Standing Up to the Airline Industry

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”:

This is not Hector – this is Fred… who is available for adoption from French Bulldog Rescue!! Click on the pic for more info!!

“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!!!!


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PREVENTION – It’s Just Not *Cute*…

Almost every day, beginning August 26, 2011 (the day after Jack went missing), I have spent some time wishing I had done something different.  Wishing I had INSISTED that I fly out to Cali with Karen, each of us taking one cat under the seat.  Wishing I had gone up to New York to look at her cat carriers myself.  Wishing I had told her to take Jack under the seat and let Barry fly cargo.  Wishing, wishing, wishing… but as the old saying goes, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”  I could be riding a whole stableful of horses right now.

But instead, I’ve learned sooooooo much…

  • I’ve learned that airlines really do consider companion animals to be luggage.
  • I’ve learned that there are a whole bunch of different entities that have a voice in if and how lost animals are searched for when they are lost in an airport.
  • I’ve learned that there are a few laws in place to protect animals that are being transported; and like all laws, sometimes they are violated.  These violations seem to have almost no punishment attached to them.
  • I’ve learned that there are an awful lot of people out there that are willing to give their heart to a cat they’ve never met in person.
  • I’ve learned that keeping animals safe when they travel by air is a much bigger and more complex problem than I ever would have imagined.

Now if I had just gone up to NYC and flown with Karen, Barry, and Jack out to Cali, I never would have learned all this.

BUT I DIDN’T.  I DIDN’T PREVENT THE PROBLEM WHEN I COULD HAVE.

So instead of having two anonymous cats living happily in the California sunshine, we now have one poster boy for safety in pet air travel, a Facebook page with 25,000 followers, and a new non-profit  that seeks to make sure Jack is not just another statistic on a “redacted” report to the government.

If I had prevented this from happening all these “exciting” developments wouldn’t have happened.

What is even more important, though –  if I had prevented this from happening, a very frightened Jack wouldn’t have spent 61 days crawling around in the ceiling at JFK airport, hungry and thirsty and alone.

And that is why we keep going on this mission.

Luckily, there is some good news… we have made some progress!  Alaska Airlines did an amazing job looking for (and finding!) Wenty!!  And Byrdie the Rhodesian Ridgeback was retrieved from the runway at La Guardia before tragedy struck!!

And yet, I still think about Jack – and what he went through during the last 73 days of his life –  every day.  And I also think about the dogs that have escaped from their crates and have run out into the world, scared out of their wits, looking for their families, unsafe and – far too often – unlucky.  Vivi.  Nahla.  Tosha (who was a lucky one).

But all those animals give us a focal point.  If our quest is successful – if we keep the animals SAFE – there will be no more focal points.  No more drama, no more “poster kids” like Jack, like Wenty, like Nahla, like Tosha.

GOOD.  I hope, with everything in my body and soul, that we never have to report on another lost dog or cat at an airport ever again.

Unfortunately, without these “poster kids,” it’s hard to make that dream a reality.  It’s hard to convince people to put themselves out there to PREVENT another sad story.

If I ask you to give $10, or $25, or $100 dollars to help keep a sweet kitty or puppy with big eyes and huge ears alive, it’s a pretty easy call.

But if I ask you to donate the same amount to help us print posters that will go in every vet’s office in the U.S., to help pay the fee for a table at a veterinary conference so that we can spread the word about the dangers of air travel to the people who certify that a dog or cat is healthy enough to fly, or to cover expenses for a trip to Washington to really talk to people that can help us create a safer system, weeeeeeeellllllll…

Those things just aren’t CUTE.  And there will be no story with a happy ending.  Because – if this works – there will be no more stories at all.

I am absolutely 100% certain that if all of us don’t think at least a little bit ahead… if we don’t make air travel for animals safe… if we don’t take a stand and say IT IS NOT ALRIGHT TO TREAT ANIMALS LIKE LUGGAGE, what happened to Jack will happen over and over and over again.  And there will be more pretty kitties and darling doggies who will be lost, injured and killed as a result of air travel.  We’ll look at their pictures and we’ll worry or we’ll cry — but ultimately, these fur-kids will be the ones who pay for our unwillingness to think ahead, to think beyond the story of the cute animal in front of us right now.

When we began Where Is Jack? Inc. (“we” are a core group of determined and concerned volunteers, who all met online as a result of Jack’s plight), we drew up a preliminary budget.  We need about $50,000 to do just the basics of what we’re hoping to do in the next year…

  • to go to national and regional veterinary conferences, to talk to vets about the realities of air travel for pets in checked baggage or cargo – since they are the ones who must certify that a dog or cat is healthy enough to fly;
  • to print and distribute posters and information cards in the 50,000 veterinary practices in the U.S.; and
  • to get to DC to work with people who are willing and able to help us make sure what happened to Jack NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.

But WE NEED YOUR HELP to make this happen.  To those of you who have become a member of Where Is Jack? Inc. already,  we thank you.  Please ask all your animal-loving friends to join you in supporting this work!!  And if you haven’t yet become a member…

Remember the 61 days Jack was in the ceiling, hungry and alone.  Remember the 12 days he was in veterinary ICU, with that tube in his nose.

Remember that ultimately, he couldn’t survive his ordeal, and that he is now watching us from the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.

Help us print the posters, go to the conferences, and change the laws so that his suffering will never, ever happen again.

It won’t make what Jack went through”worth it,” but at least it won’t make his death another utterly pointless tragedy in the history of animals on planes.