I adore my puppy, Leela, and am dreading the holiday season when I am forced to leave her behind. I considered bringing her with me, but I can’t bear to think about the trauma of traveling across the country in a crate. I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, and could never put her life in the hands of the idiots that work in the airport.
I recently discovered that airlines do not have to report all the deaths or accidents that occur to animals as the result of their negligence. Apparently, the current law only requires airlines to report incidents that involve “animals”, which is narrowly defined as one “that is being kept as a pet in a family household in the United States.”
So when twelve-week-old Maggie Mae was run over by a luggage conveyer machine because the Delta crew forgot they had placed her underneath it, her death did not count. Maggie Mae was not an “animal”; she was en route from a breeder to her new owner and, therefore, not yet anyone’s pet. Because of this loophole, Delta proudly claimed zero reportable deaths this year, but refuses to disclose the number of actual animal deaths.
According to the Department of Transportation, their narrow and misguided definition “properly carries out the mandates of the statute.” The author of the original bill, Senator Robert Menendez, does not agree. “I believe the current policies do not reflect Congressional intent,” he wrote. “I am surprised and disappointed that animals covered by this law have been defined in such a narrow fashion.”
Comprehensive and effective laws regarding animal safety are important because they hold airlines accountable for their negligence. In 2005, the USDA fined Delta $187,500 for various reported incidents, including:
- The deaths of five of six young German shepherds on a May 2002 flight from Atlanta to Dayton, Ohio. The animals were in a cargo compartment with no cooling or air circulation during a two-hour delay. The pilot turned the engines and air conditioning off to save fuel. “At least one of the passengers heard the dogs barking in a distressed manner,” the USDA found.
- The death and injury of three female English bulldogs from Asheville, N.C., to Atlanta in March 2000. One dog, named Bonnie, died of asphyxiation; two others suffered respiratory distress. The cargo space lacked sufficient space and ventilation, the USDA found.
- The death of a young coati-mundi, a raccoonlike animal, in February 2002. The airline failed to give it food or water for four days when its owner failed to pick it up in New York.
- The loss of a 10-week-old Neapolitan Mastiff puppy that was flown from San Francisco to Newark, N.J., in December 2001. After the flight arrived, the puppy disappeared from its crate. It was never found.
- The loss of an 8-week-old English bulldog in October 2004. The puppy was flying from Arkansas to Portland, Ore., via Dallas. The puppy arrived in Dallas, but its carrier was empty when the airline put it on a connecting flight. The puppy was never recovered.
- The death of a cat named Hereford during a November 2003 flight from Portland, Ore., to Greensboro, N.C., via Atlanta. Delta allowed the animal’s owners to fly with two other cats in the cabin. “Delta assured the cats’ owners that Hereford would be safe” in cargo, the USDA wrote. Delta’s staff in Portland noted that Hereford appeared distressed but shipped the animal anyway. The cat was dead on arrival in Greensboro.
- The October 2004 death of a 5-year-old cat named Smokey en route to Atlanta. The USDA found that Delta agreed to transport the 14-pound cat in a carrier that wasn’t large enough.
Given the option to minimize fines by reporting fewer accidents, it is no wonder the airline industry supports this skewed interpretation of the law.