In the very worst cases, they freeze to death on icy tarmacs, or overheat andsuffocate in stifling cargo holds. They’re dogs and cats. Thousands of them are killed, injured or lost annuallyafter their owners entrust airlines to carry and deliver them safely. Heat alone – typically from the cargo holds of planes delayed on hot tarmacs- kills or “severely” injures more than 500 animals a year, accordingto the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which keeps only a partial accounting. For the pet, these holds turn the skies into a hell.
A November study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toAnimals in San Francisco found that animal crates are almost always shippedalong with routine baggage in cargo holds with no air- conditioning or aircirculation. Temperatures routinely exceed 115 degrees.
“These are animals that are struggling to breathe, their hearts areracing, and they’re in a panic, suffering extreme stress and anxiety,” saidDr. Lila Miller, a veterinary adviser for the New York-based ASPCA. Their paws are often bloodied, and their teeth chipped and broken, in theirfrantic attempts to break out of their shipping crates to escape the infernalheat. “That’s torture,” police-dog trainer Mike Cain told the CharlotteObserver last year after his five Belgian Malinois arrived dead from heat strokeand suffocation in Atlanta on a Delta Airlines flight from the Netherlands.
More common – and virtually unpoliced and uncounted – are the dogs and catswhose shipping crates are dropped, crushed, sent to the wrong location, ordamaged enough to allow the animals to escape. There’s the Staffordshire terrier from Boise, Idaho, whose crate was droppedand smashed from a height of four feet last year by a Delta baggage handler ashis owner watched in horror. The Air Transport Association boasts of the industry’s “excellentrecord” shipping pets, and says less than 1 percent of the 500,000 petsthat fly each year experience health problems.
“We carry hundreds of pets throughout our system each day, normally withcomplete satisfaction to their owners,” said a spokeswoman for Delta, anairline that turned up again and again as this story was researched.
- The USDA has only 70 inspectors to police nearly 11,000 sites – not onlyairports, but puppy mills, zoos, circuses and research labs.
- Airlines are not required to report pet mishaps. No one knows how many ofthe nearly 170,000 passenger baggage complaints logged each month by theU.S.Department of Transportation involve pet cargo.
- An airline’s civil liability is limited by federal tariff law to only $2,000per piece of luggage – and a pet in a crate is legally luggage.
Unless a pet is small enough to qualify as carry-on luggage, “You can be99 percent certain you are putting your pet in a cargo hold that is notventilated and has no temperature control,” said Nancy Blaney, the ASPCA’snational lobbyist, who is currently fighting for a bill that would address allof these problems.
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