Pet Travel: Safety Tips to Prevent the Loss of Your Animal

March 4, 2010 | By Gabrielle Jonas | Category: Travel | 14 comments
Tags: care & safety, travel

A few simple steps can prevent the loss of your pet in transit.

For Dixie, a 4-year-old Chocolate Labrador, the trip last September from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina turned out to be no vacation.

As baggage handlers transported Dixie between the cargo facility and the airplane, the frightened Lab popped several bolts from her kennel and bolted. Baggage handlers chased Dixie, watching helplessly as she scooted under the airport perimeter fence.

An 11-day search ended when a local animal control officer shot Dixie with a tranquilizer gun. But the dart hit several organs, including Dixie's spleen, and emergency surgery could not save her.

Northwest Airlines reprimanded the Worldwide Flight Services handler who received the kennel for not securing its door with zip ties. The airline also retrained its employees on the airline's animal acceptance procedures, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Indeed, securing the animal's kennel after reception or inspection with zip ties is a major factor in preventing animal loss at airports.

Failure to examine zip ties was also a factor in the loss of Moya, a gray and orange Tabby traveling with her owner on Hawaiian Airlines from Hawaii to Los Angeles last July.

A porter took the kennel to the bag room. "The cat's kennel was inspected by Transportation Security Administration inspection, but not properly secured thereafter," according to a DOT incident report.

Moya bolted. But even worse, no one reported the escape. Moya's owner did not know her cat was missing until after takeoff. Neither the porter's ban from HA contract work, or the $225 pet fee refund could have made up for the loss.

Fastening carriers adequately is one way to reduce the chance of loss. But so is reducing the number of flights taken over one journey, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When Horizon Air lost a Blue Heeler, the 45-lb. dog had already traveled from Anchorage to Seattle to Portland. He was overdue for a walk, but the trip still wasn't over.

While the Blue Heeler was waiting in his kennel for the next leg of his journey to Medford, Oregon, a Horizon Air employee took pity on him and opened the kennel to take him for a walk.

Unfortunately, the American Kennel Club identifies the breed as one that is naturally suspicious of strangers, and the Blue Heeler bolted.

Horizon Air's policy states that if its employees believe the pet needs attention, they should locate the owners.

"The employee was trained on this policy, but was trying to be helpful and kind to the dog and opened his kennel," the airline reported in its incident report to DOT.

The Blue Heeler was missing for four days before his owners found him.

Pet owners can learn lessons from this herding canine, whose instinct was to make a break for open space.

"Book a direct flight whenever possible," advises the ASPCA. "This will decrease the chances that your pet is left on the tarmac during extreme weather conditions or mishandled by baggage personnel."

The ASPCA also cautions owners to purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate large enough for a pet to stand, sit and turn around in comfortably. Some airlines even sell the USDA-approved shipping crates.

Make sure the crate's door is securely closed, but not locked, so that airline personnel can open it in an emergency. Affix a current photograph of the pet to the top of the crate for identification, added the ASPCA.

"Should your pet escape from the carrier, this could be a lifesaver," an ASPCA spokesman said. "You should also carry a photograph of your pet."

But the ASPCA urges pet owners to think twice about flying their pets on commercial airlines, especially if they plan on checking them in as cargo. "Unless your animal is small enough to fit under your seat and you can bring him or her in the cabin, the ASPCA recommends pet owners to not fly their animal."

But for those pet owners who have already committed to transporting their pets on commercial airlines, the ASPCA suggests some common-sense precautions.

If owners must fly their pets, in addition to a collar and ID tag, invest in a microchip for identification. Breakaway collars are best for cats. The collar should also include destination information in the event of escape.

This article is Part Two of a Zootoo Safety Series on pet travel. Check back next week for more tips on keeping your pet protected while in transit.

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Comments (13)

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5 years ago

good advice, tags and area codes on phone numbers, I would place all contact info, micro chip any resource and there would still be the chance of a blunder....good advice

Good Point | Reply ›

Denise L.

Denise L.
5 years ago

My heart goes out to the families who have lost their pets due to the negligence of these airline workers. To be honest with you, as long as no one is allergic onboard, your pet should be with you, not in cargo!

Good Point | Reply ›

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