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Airlines cope with deaths of pets

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    Robin Douglas Macdonald looks in on several dogs before the animals are transported from Sochi, Russia, to the United States.
    Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, left, and Robin Douglas Macdonald spend time with the dogs in Sochi airport before they’re put back in their carriers for the flight.

Four pets died while being transported by Hawaiian Airlines between December 2012 and January, including a 6-year-old cat that had just arrived from San Diego.

The long-haired gray-and-white Maine Coon cat escaped from the kennel at Gate 31 upon arrival on the afternoon of Jan. 20 and was found dead lying on its side near the gate at 7:30 the following morning, according to the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report released this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The cause of death was unknown.

Three dogs died during their flights, according to the DOT.

On April 30 a black pug died on a flight from Honolulu to Kahului. On Dec. 17, 2012, a 9-year-old, 25-pound King Charles spaniel died on a flight from Portland, Ore., to Honolulu. And on Dec. 1, 2012, a bulldog died on a flight from Oakland, Calif., to Honolulu. The cause of death was unknown in all three cases.

"We have policies and rules in place to make carriage of pets in our cargo hold as safe as possible," Hawaiian spokeswoman Ann Botticelli said. "Those rules are spelled out in detail on our website. The rare occasions when pets have passed on our airplanes are horrible for everyone including us."

In the cat’s case, Hawaiian refunded the pet fee, a necropsy was performed and the agents were coached, according to the report.

The plastic kennel was secured with clips, but clips were not secured with cable ties, according to the report. Only two cable ties were used to secure the center of the door, and the door pins were not secured, allowing the door to swivel.

The cat’s owner, whose name was redacted from the report, said the cat may have been too heavy for the plastic kennel.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife set up traps and searched the area with airline staff after the cat was found missing, the report said. Quarantine also loaned Hawaiian two traps, and airline staff purchased cat food and set up traps by Gate 31. The owner and staff helped look for the cat for two hours.

For the dogs, Hawaiian refunded the pet fee as a courtesy to the owners of both the black pug and the bulldog, who both were on flights with another dog that arrived safely and was handled properly, according to the reports. The spaniel was a service animal and was transported without a fee.

In another incident with a happier ending, a 70-pound mixed-breed male dog named Victor was being kept in a bag room at Honolulu Airport on March 26. Victor chewed at the grating in the corner of the kennel, ripped out a hole big enough to escape and ran out of the bag room when the kennel fell off a cart.

Victor ran toward the Air Traffic Control tower, and an unsuccessful search was conducted for 4 1/2 hours. Victor’s owners were provided a hotel until March 30 when they chose to return to Los Angeles, which is where the plane was scheduled to fly at the time of the incident.

Subsequently, Victor was sighted several times between March 30 and April 23. One of Victor’s owners returned to Honolulu on April 23 and with the help of a dog trainer found Victor on April 24.

Hawaiian paid all the expenses, including the purchase of a new kennel to return the passenger and Victor to Los Angeles on April 28.

In 2013 there were 21 pet deaths while being transported by airplane, 15 pet injuries and six lost pets for a total of 42 incidents among 16 reporting carriers, according to DOT data. In 2012 there were 31 deaths, 27 injuries and one lost pet for a total of 59 incidents, according to 15 reporting carriers.

Most injuries involve dogs that get bloodied trying to get out of their kennels.

Since December 2012, Alaska reported eight deceased dogs and one dead ferret, while United reported six dead dogs and three dead cats. One of the dogs on United died when a vendor employee took the combination Jack Russell terrier and Chihuahua for a walk with a leash to relieve herself during a rest stop in Houston following a 16 1/2-hour flight from Guam. The dog got spooked, darted out into the road and was hit and killed by a car.

Other animal incidents during that period include a dead rabbit on a Delta Air Lines flight and a pet bird that was found missing from a pet carrier after a United flight landed.


Deaths, injuries and lost pets among reporting U.S. carriers in 2013:
Carrier Death Injury Loss Total
Alaska 8 11 0 19
American 1 0 1 2
Delta 2 3 0 5
Hawaiian 1 0 1 2
Horizon 0 1 0 1
United 9 0 4 13
Total 21 15 6 42
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation
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