24 MAR 2011: Charlie was born in Galway, Ireland, and flew as a tiny puppy over to New Jersey where we picked him and drove back to Toronto. He has since, in his barely two years, explored much of Ontario, visited Montreal, Quebec City and the Charlevoix region of Quebec, and travelled regularly to both coasts of Florida – all by car. Since his inaugural flight, I’ve argued against letting him back on a plane, because at a small, but hefty, 20 pounds he can’t fly in the cabin.

And why do I worry? There have been far too many pet deaths on airlines, for my comfort level.

Far too often lately I read about some little guy who has arrived belly up in or out of his crate. And let’s not forget Bohem C’est La Vie, AKA Vivi, the prize winning whippet from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show who disappeared at JFK in 2006.

There are still tales of occasional sightings, but search parties and even a team of pet psychics couldn’t find Vivi.

Is that a lot?

According to a report by the US Department of Transportation, about 133 animals have died on US carriers over the last five years, which doesn’t seem like that huge an amount, but I couldn’t find out how many animals actually travelled to get a lived/died ratio.

I couldn’t find much for Air Canada, except for the tale of a couple from BC whose four-year-old dog was dead when it’s cage arrived from cargo. The man claimed an autopsy found carbon monoxide poisoning, but the airline’s investigations could find no source of the deadly gas on board. The airline was not held responsible in a subsequent suit.

Fifty bucks!

A small kitten just died on a Delta flight. The cause of death was apparently a door latch malfunction in 10-degree weather, preventing workers from reaching the kitten before it froze to death.

Delta coughed up a US$50 for that little episode and refunded the kitten’s owner the cost of her flight. However she claims she had been promised $2900 for the cat, reimbursement of vet bills and even the expense of storing the body in a freezer until the ground thaws out enough for burial. Delta said talks about reimbursement are still ongoing.

Last August seven out of 14 puppies travelling on an American Airlines flight were dead on arrival. The most likely cause of death was thought to be long flight delays that overheated the puppies.

The airline subsequently released a checklist of suggestions for pet owners including “book animals during moderate weather.”

Travel report for Jan

An ‘Airline Pet Travel Report’ issued by petflight.com offered the following pet incidents for the month of January this year:

“Delta reports the injury of a Golden Retriever and the death of a English Bulldog.

“A Golden Retriever injured itself trying to escape its kennel. Part of a zip-tie used to secure the kennel became lodged in its gum and had to be removed at a vet clinic.

“A nine month-old English Bulldog named Coco arrived deceased in Atlanta, Georgia from Stuttgart, Germany. Delta reported no temperature issues or problems with the aircraft. A necropsy indicated “regurgitated food consumed prior to transportation which was aspirated into the trachea and lungs. The vet also noted that there were indications of a preexisting.”

Watch those short snouts

Brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds such as pugs and bulldogs appear to have more trouble than most on planes and are more prone to breathing difficulties and overheating because of their shorter snouts. On a plane this can become exacerbated causing discomfort and even death.

Is there a solution?

What’s the solution? Charlie’s friend Bruce (a Pug) flew very successfully to and from Miami this winter. Bruce is however somewhat more svelte than Charlie, and consequently got to ride in the cabin with his parents. We hear Air Canada were tops on all counts.

But what if you can’t get your pet in the cabin? I say he stays home, others in the household waver.

The upside is that some airlines are looking for alternative ways to prevent issues (loss, injury, death) from happening.

Pets welcome

Companion Air is set to start operating soon, and no dog will be turned away. They’ll travel in cabin, with you, but inside a kennel at the back of the plane.

Unfortunately, it’s only within the US.

So, for now, Charlie drives.

Bruce (Pug) Charlie (Irish Jack) relaxing at their destination

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