Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets


What I Learned from Jack, Part II: Facebook Is a Force to Be Reckoned With… Except When It’s Not.

When Karen called me to tell me Jack had gone missing, I was walking my dogs on the beach.  I was heartbroken and I felt totally helpless – it was almost 7pm, I was in Florida, and even if I could somehow manage to catch a flight to get up to JFK to look for him, it was doubtful they would let me look, since he had been lost in a restricted area.  I started to walk the dogs home, trying to think of what I could do, and then it hit me – PATRICK.

Patrick on his way to good health...Patrick is the dog who was starved and dumped down 21 flights of a garbage chute.  He was found when one of the maintenance workers in the Newark, NJ building where he had “lived” saw the bag move when they were getting ready to run the compactor.  Patrick was taken to the Associated Humane Societies and then to the Garden State Veterinary Specialists, where his life was ultimately saved.  And, in the course of all this, two amazing people started a Facebook page – The Patrick Miracle – to send love and support to this very special little boy.  That fb page garnered over 100,000 LIKES in just one weekend.

It was not my intention to start a fb page – but it was my intention to try to find someone who might have access to the baggage area of American Airlines.  Some kind soul who could help us… and with over 100k followers, I knew that posting on Patrick’s page could give us a lead.

But why stop there??  I posted to Patrick, to Braveheart, to all the rescues I knew of here in Florida, to every pet-oriented page I was connected to or had ever heard of on fb.  All in the hopes of finding one person with access who would be willing to help us.  I stayed up posting on that first night until midnight.  I checked back on the comments on all the posts the next morning.  And I re-posted, and re-posted, and re-posted.

I got phone calls… I got private messages… and I got replies.  But I still hadn’t found that one person I needed.  (I was awfully naive about the culture of AA at that point… I’ve learned a lot since then!!)

And then, on Saturday, with Hurricane Irene on its way to NYC and JFK closing, I got a private message from a wonderful woman who told me she had posted a question about Jack on AA’s fb page.  And people were responding to that!  In droves!!!  They were asking what AA was doing to find Jack… and they were not being shy about it!!  They had deleted her first post, but then she re-posted, and others responded to her, and then they started posting themselves.  It was the beginning of a movement… it seemed like AA couldn’t even begin to keep up to delete the posts.

And then I started the fb page.  I had hoped we would get a couple hundred likes, but we passed the 1000 mark within a day!!  And in the process met so many concerned and caring people… but unfortunately, none with the access we needed to really search for Jack.  The numbers grew – to 15,000!!! – and so many people worked so hard to find the boy.  The numbers forced AA to at least feign concern… it forced them to hire the pet detective and tracking dog… it forced them to take the time to at least respond on their fb page to inquiries.  And ultimately, it forced them to shut down the discussion when, after two weeks, they just looked impotent.

But sadly, the growth of the page and the movement did not force AA to actually look for Jack.  AA refused to take the idea seriously (posted by both pet psychics and knowledgeable cat owners) that he could have gotten into the ceiling.  They failed to put a team – or at least a single person – in place to hunt for Jack in a consistent, caring and concerned manner.  And because of the security issues that are part of the commercial airline industry at this point, no one could do that search but AA personnel.

Facebook is an amazing tool… it brings people together; it helps people to speak with a common voice; it demonstrates that the concerns of one person are not just theirs alone.  Oh, and the comfort that has provided!!!  Karen and I have never felt such love, compassion and caring in our lives.  The plight of animals in cargo is now known… and, we pray, change will happen.  SOON.

But ultimately, Jack’s time missing was a problem that fb could not solve… Jack WAS in the building, he WAS in a secure area, and he ONLY could have been found by secured personnel.  I have received criticism from a variety of directions about what has been perceived as “lack of action” or even “lack of balls” on my part and Karen’s part in dealing with AA (and with Port Authority, the government entity that administers the entire airport).  And fb opened us up to that criticism.  That’s fine, of course… with every silver lining comes a cloud.  But to the critics who said we should have shown our teeth… quite honestly, it just wasn’t that simple.  This was uncharted territory for us — and it’s territory that has a big huge strong wall marked NATIONAL SECURITY all around it.

I began working with fb to find just one soul who could get into the spot we needed searched… instead, I found 26k amazing humans and found people who have brightened my life and enriched me beyond words.  It was worth it – for me, for all the animals saved, and for the animals we will save in the future.  But when AA did finally call Karen – 66 hours after Jack was first lost – the woman she spoke to told her “the last time this happened, it took about a month to starve the cat out.”

We couldn’t force them to do it any other way.  And ultimately, Jack paid the price.  Facebook just couldn’t change that.


What I Learned from Jack, Part I: Collateral Damage

In the weeks since Jack went missing, I’ve spent a lot of time with the words “collateral damage” running through my brain.  Collateral damage is “damage to people or property that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome.”  It’s a phrase that is often used about combat situations – the civilians that are hurt in war are the “collateral damage.”

I do believe that whatever happened to Jack was not intended… however he got out of his crate, I believe it was an accident (though we will probably never know for sure).  And because of the way things proceeded from that moment on, there is no doubt in my mind that Jack was absolutely “collateral damage” from AA’s perspective – Jack’s being lost, and even his death, was “unintended or incidental” to their mission to fly passengers and their baggage from Destination A to Destination B.

And that is where the problem lies – to Karen, to me, to the 26,000+ people who have “liked” Jack’s Facebook page.  What happened was not “incidental.”  It may have been unintended, but it was definitely not “incidental.”  It was absolutely horrifying, agonizing, and devastating.  A conscious being was left to fend for himself, scared and alone.  And no one who had the power to look for him seemed to be actually looking.

But from AA’s perspective, Jack being lost was nothing more than an unfortunate error.  They could continue to operate their airline just fine even though Jack had gone missing.  They could continue to book the reservations, fly the planes, and even get (most of) the baggage to the right place while Jack was hiding in the ceiling at JFK.  This was, by definition, “unintended and incidental” to their intended outcome – to profitably run an airline.

And that’s why both the corporate people and many of the people on the ground at JFK responded they way they did: it’s not that they’re bad people or they didn’t care about Jack, but they all have jobs to do, and finding a lost cat was not in anyone’s job description.  (Indeed, based on the comments on the AA fb page, it seems that finding lost luggage that wasn’t able to move wasn’t even a major part of anyone’s job!)  So even though the importance of finding a lost and scared kitty was apparent to Karen, to me, and later to all the people who followed this journey, it just wasn’t within the scope of American Airlines’ “intended outcome.”

And, in a way, that’s understandable.  After all, every person walking on the planet creates “collateral damage” as we go through our daily lives: we step on bugs, we shrink the polar ice cap by relying on fossil fuels, we inadvertently hurt peoples’ feelings.  And we can’t always address all that damage and make things right.

But as pet parents, each of us needs to be aware that when we travel with our pets by air, the airlines ARE NOT EQUIPPED to address, in a way most of us would feel is adequate, the problems that can arise when they handle our pets.  If traveling with pets in cargo is determined to be the best, if not the only option, to keep a family together, pet parents must go the extra mile to insure their pet is safe throughout the journey.  “Trust” is not an option here.  The airlines are not “experts” in pet travel.  Even if they have transported many pets, they have also had many accidents.

And as animal lovers, we have another responsibility: to think about WHY it is that the airlines would want to take the risk of transporting pets?  And the answer is actually quite simple.  It is not pets that are family members that are most often shipped via airline cargo.  It is the animals (most of them dogs) that come from commercial breeders that are most often shipped this way.  Commercial breeders (often called “puppy mills”) are large-scale breeding facilities that ship dogs to puppy stores, pet shops and individuals around the country.  Animals that are shipped this way are considered commercial cargo, and US Department of Transportation Pet Incident Reports do not have to be filed if one of these animals dies in transit.  We do not know how many of these (mostly) dogs die under the airlines’ watch every year.  What we do know, however, is that the airlines make a great deal of money shipping these animals from puppy mills to the stores.

So when those of us who are concerned about this issue ask,”why don’t the airlines just stop flying pets in cargo if they’re not willing to deal with the potential consequences,” the answer is that shipping pets does help them create their intended consequence: a better bottom linen their financial statements.   And as long as commercial breeding is allowed, commercial shipping will happen… and there is a strong lobbying force out there to insure this.

The airlines are willing to allow the “collateral damage” of lost, injured, and dead animals to continue because, to them, it is “incidental.”  For those of us who care about animals – whether they are our own or the millions that are bought and sold every year (not to mention the millions more that are euthanized) – there is no life that is “incidental.”  Maybe we can’t save them all today, but at least we can bring awareness to the fact that even more are being lost, injured, and killed than most people know about.



Welcome, FoJs from Facebook and all others who happen upon this site!!

Obviously, this is just the beginning… but I have 3 goals in mind as I start this site:

  1. Make sure that all pets who must travel in cargo right now are secure.
  2. Change the rules, regulations, policies and procedures that determine how pets who are transported via cargo are treated by the airlines.  This involves working with the legislative process, the regulatory process, and the commercial airlines themselves.
  3. This is the BIG, right now seemingly impossible, DREAM: create a viable commercial airline where people and their pets of all sizes can fly together.  Right now, this is an absolutely crazy thought, but maybe someday…
So we will start small – how to keep your pets safe if they do have to travel in cargo, and what changes to begin to create in the industry… I’ll be putting up more info on both of those topics in the next few days!!!
Thanks for being here… I know that we can make sure that what happened to Jack WILL NOT happen again!!!!