Dog death prompts concerns about safety of pets on airplanes

CREATED Jan. 30, 2014

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MIAMI, Fla. - Michael Jarboe's Neapolitan Mastiff, Bam Bam, never left his side.

"They're probably the most stalkerish of any dog breed," Jarboe said.

So when the South Florida man and his partner planned a summer trip to California in August 2012, they bought a ticket for the 145 pound dog too.

But during a layover in Houston, Jarboe noticed something was wrong.

"He was standing up and his tongue was out and he was swaying back and forth, the hottest I have ever seen him," Jarboe said.

Jarboe was worried and when he landed in San Francisco, his worst fears came true.

"The manager came out with four other people behind him, these four big guys, and I stood up and he looked right at me and he said he didn't make it," Jarboe said.

According to the US Department of Transportation, Bam Bam was one of 29 pets that died during air travel in 2012. That same year, 26 pets were injured and one was lost. Between 2008-2012, 261 pets were injured, lost or died during air travel.

"If its not necessary to travel with your pet, don't, don't do it," Mary Beth Melchior said.

Melchior is the Founder and CEO of Where is Jack, Inc., which advocates for safe travel for pets. She started the group after an airline lost her friend's cat inside JFK Airport for 61 days. The cat, named Jack, died from malnutrition 12 days after falling out of the ceiling in the same terminal where he got loose.

"It comes down to lack of care, lack of concern for a living being," Melchior said.

Where is Jack is also working to change the rules when it comes to the airlines reporting incidents.

"We estimate that best case scenario, there's 95% under reporting for dogs," Melchior said. 

A spokesperson for the US Department of Transportation says animals owned by zoos or museums and animals shipped commercially by a breeder are not included in reports. However, the DOT is currently considering broadening the reporting requirements and hopes to have a decision later this year.

"The airlines have the deck stacked in their favor in terms of not having to take responsibility if they're not motivated to take responsibility," Melchior said.

Bam Bam's necropsy says the almost three-year-old dog died of "acute cardiovascular collapse" and that his death was "not related to United Airline's handling."

But Jarboe says the dog was given a clean bill of health before flying and blames the airline.

"They sold me something that my dog could have never survived," Jarboe said.

Jarboe paid $650 each way for Bam Bam's ticket, but chose to fly United because it's the only airline that offers the PetSafe Program. The program's website promises climate controlled vehicles in temperatures greater than 85 degrees, but Jarboe says Bam Bam was never put in the air conditioning during their nearly four-hour layover in Houston. He says it was more than 95 degrees that day.

"It would have been more humane that morning if I had driven to my vet and had him put to sleep," Jarboe said.

A spokesperson from United Airlines says Bam Bam was transported in air conditioned vans, but during the layover, "given his size and the fact that he is a brachycephalic breed, we made the decision to also bring him to our holding facility for greater comfort during his connection."

United Airlines carries more than 110,000 pets annually. The incident reports from 2008-2012 show United reported the fourth most incidents: 24. Delta reported the most with 74, followed by Alaska Air with 45 and American with 39.

And while the airlines insist air travel for pets is safe, Melchior and Jarboe say they will continue to push for change and educate others on the dangers of traveling with your pet.

"Under no circumstances, just don't do it," Melchior said.

United Airlines did compensate Jarboe for the death of Bam Bam, but the case is still under investigation. 

If you're planning on traveling with your pet, you can read up on some safety tips by logging on to http://whereisjack.org/steps/.