You'd think paying an additional $1800 to an airline to transport your pets would suggest that part of the agreement is that your pets not only arrive at your destination, but that they arrive not dead.
Model and actress Maggie Rizer found that this isn't always the case after a recent United flight from New York to San Francisco that left one of her dogs dead from an apparent heat stroke.
Maggie Rizer is a well-known model and occasional actress who comes from a family that raised Golden Retrievers. So, it makes sense that she would have one, and that dog would be a very important part of her life. In fact, Bea, the dog, was so much a part of her life that Maggie had a blog called And Bea Makes Three that chronicles her life with her dog.
The last entry of the blog, however, is pretty wrenching:
Two weeks ago, on our way back to San Francisco after a great summer vacation on the east coast, Beatrice lost her life due to the negligence of United Airlines. I'm writing this with my anger aside, in the hopes that someone looking for advice will read this and not make the mistake of trusting United with their pets as we did.
Beatrice had a perfect health record. She received a full examination and a health certificate four days before the flight, as is required by the Pet Safe program. This program is United's branded on-board pet safety program. In addition to Pet Safe's stringent requirements, we took every extra precaution we could think of. Both the dog's kennels were labeled front to back with emergency numbers, flight information and warnings. Their kennels were purchased specifically for the measurements and design specified by Pet Safe. We purchased special water bowls which we filled with ice to ensure that the water wouldn't spill and that it would last longer. We drove the six hours to New York City from our house in Northern New York State, so the dogs wouldn't have to make a connecting flight. We paid United Airlines $1800.00, in addition to our plane tickets, to ensure the safety of our pets. Albert and Bea were very prepared travelers.
When we arrived in San Francisco to pick up our dogs we drove to the dark cargo terminal and on arrival in the hanger were told simply, "one of them is dead" by the emotionless worker who seemed more interested in his text messages. It took thirty minutes for a supervisor to come to tell us, "it was the two year old." Subsequently we requested that our dog be returned to us and were told that she had been delivered to a local vet for an autopsy. Whatever thread of trust remained between us and United broke and we then insisted that she be returned to us for our own autopsy by our trusted veterinarian, Shann Ikezawa, DVM from Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center. Over the next two hours the supervisor's lie unraveled as it became clear that Bea was right behind a closed door the whole time and he had been discussing how to handle the potential liability with his boss who had left and sticking to the divert and stall tactic that they had been taught. Eventually Bea was returned and we drove her to the vet at midnight.
United's handling of the situation is pretty awful, from a customer service standpoint, but it's not yet clear why the dog died. The passengers seem to have taken every precaution needed to ensure the dog's safety, and these are people well-acquainted with dogs. I know I've not been as thorough traveling with my own pets. There has to be a reason why a healthy two-year old Golden would just die.
The entry continues
William Spangler DVM, PhD performed Beatrice's necropsy (a dog autopsy). From the findings, it is Dr. Spangler's opinion that Beatrice's death was from heatstroke. Our little Beatrice died in pain, scared and alone. Dr. Spangler also said that "in my experience it is not unusual for a single dog in airline transit to be affected while other dogs of the same breed survive the trip apparently unscathed."
It will be two weeks since Beatrice was killed by United Airlines and since then United has refused to give us any information about what happened to our beloved little Bea other then, "our internal investigation does not show any irregularities, as evidenced by the fact that your companion dog and other animals on board did not suffer the same fate". I'm not sure why the fact that the other dogs were not killed clears United Airlines but, they seem to think it does.
They had nothing to say about the fact that the plane had been turned off (for at least fifteen minutes each time) twice before take-off in Newark, nor did they have anything to say when I requested information about her placement in the plane or about baggage being packed around her. United Airlines additionally called our veterinarian and fabricated a story about having an email from me, authorizing them to obtain the necropsy results. This, after I specifically told them that we would release the results to them at our discretion.
If a one dog dies of heatstroke in the luggage compartment of an airplane while others survive, there has to be some sort of environmental factor at play. Location of the dog, airflow around the dog, was the dog packed into an enclosed area with other cargo, etc. United's refusal to provide information about this seems pretty damning.
I'm not sure what recourse people have in these situations, but at the very least it seems worthwhile to have United explain their policies and procedures regarding placing animals in their plane's cargo area. The fact that other dogs lived just shows this sort of death does not need to happen.
Those aren't human lives down in that hold, sure, but they absolutely are lives, capable of loving and being loved, and if an airline can't or won't understand that, they don't deserve anyone's business.
I've written about losing dogs here before, but my story was bittersweet, of dogs and cars and full canine lives. I can't imagine the sadness and rage I'd feel if one of my animals was killed because someone didn't think through how they were shoved between a bunch of golf bags and trade show booth cases.
Let's hope Bea's death helps bring some attention to how airlines treat our pets.
We've reached out to United for a statement.