Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 2/17/15
Diego, a 9-year-old Boston terrier, died of “undisclosed causes” in July after being accepted on a United Airlines flight to Houston, even though Boston terriers of his age and weight are restricted.
Daunte, a 14-year-old cat, died after escaping from his kennel and being hit by an airport ramp vehicleon his way onto a July Alaskan Airlines flight in Boston.
Hart, a cat, died in his crate after “extensive hemorrhaging” from being bitten multiple times from a Malinois dog who escaped from his crate on a November Delta flight in Atlanta.
These incidents are three of the pet deaths, injuries and losses of the 44 that occurred out of the 2 million animals transported by air in 2014 in the United States.
Although the stats are low at less than 1 percent of animals dying, becoming injured or lost per year, flying isn’t advantageous for any species, no matter how pet-friendly an airline appears to be, said the Humane Society. The organization “recommends that you do not transport your pet by airplane unless absolutely necessary” and that pet owners should “consider all alternatives to flying.”
To aid animal owners who must to fly their pets, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) requires that as of the first of this year, all American-based airlines must file a yearly report that includes the total number of animals that were lost, injured or died during air transport.
Since airlines all have their own company policy for the handling of animals that they transport, the USDOT said that travelers should investigate these policies before booking a trip with their animal. The ground rules within the federal Animal Welfare Act amount to necessary feeding every 24 hours and water every 12 hours as well as that temperatures cannot be lower than 45 degrees.
Al Peterson, public information officer at the New Jersey State Humane Police, said, “Owners can contact the Federal Aviation Administration, call the airline or conveyance carrier reservations line and get information from the agent who takes their call. They can also look at the airline’s website to get information about any restrictions or policies for traveling with pets.”
If flying a pet is necessary, owners can find out if it can travel in the cabin, which most airlines allow for small dogs and cats for an additional fee as long as the airline is notified well in advance since there is a limit on how many animals can be in the cabin.
Dianne O’ Donnell, owner of Longhill Pet Boarding in Hillsborough, said, “Personally, I wouldn’t ship a pet in cargo. I would rather be with my animal in the cabin if I absolutely needed them to fly with me.”
According to the Humane Society, it’s the excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation and rough handling in the cargo area that can lead to animal injuries and deaths in-flight.
Peterson said that to protect pets that need to be shipped in cargo, owners should pack a bag containing all of the sustenance needs of their pet, including food, water, toys, license details, their pet’s health and immunization record and especially a pet first-aid kit, complete with all medications and essential items, should the pet have any medical emergency, including the name and contact details of the animal’s veterinarian.
The Humane Society also advised that owners should take direct flights, carry a current photograph of the pet in case it is lost, travel on the same flight as their pet and ask the airline if they can watch the pet being loaded and unloaded onto the cargo hold.
When it comes to choosing the time of flight, the Humane Society said that pet owners should choose flights that accommodate the temperature extremes, such as taking early morning or late evening flights in the summer and afternoon flights in the winter.
“Owners should also include an ice pack for extra comfort on a hot day or a hot water bottle on a cold day,” said Sue Madden, public affairs specialist at AAA Mid-Atlantic. Also, owners should avoid hectic travel periods, such as the holidays, when an animal would be more likely to undergo rough handling, according to the Humane Society.
Madden also said that owners should make sure that an animal’s crate is properly labeled and secured and the pet is wearing two identification tags that include the owner’s name, address and phone number. Plus, she said that it’s also a good idea to trim a pet’s nails before departure so they won’t accidentally get caught on any part of the carrier.
Owners also shouldn’t feed a pet 4-6 hours before a trip, however, it is wise to put ice cubes in a water tray attached to a carrier, since a water bowl will spill and cause discomfort, said the Humane Society.
According to O’Donnell, it is important to remember that not all pets were made to travel, as some are “homebodies” and others can get motion sickness, just like people can. “Being the owner of a kennel,” she said, “if it’s not comfortable for them to travel, then owners should research good local kennels and make sure that they have a backup generator, fire alarms, and someone present on the property 24/7.”
If you need to report animal mistreatment by airline personnel, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 301-851-3751.