More pets dying, lost on airlines


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on December 20, 2012 at 11:25 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 21 at 12:18 PM

AUSTIN -- Mila Raisovich doesn't go anywhere without her 10-year-old beagle, Madison.

"She's flown many times," Raisovich said about taking her dog to Chicago over the past few years.

The first time wasn’t easy. "I was very nervous. I had her drugged, so she had no idea what was going on," she explained.

Raisovich has good reason to worry. A KVUE Defenders investigation found that nationwide the number of pets dying, injured or lost during commercial air travel has increased over the past few years.

According to Department of Transportation reports reviewed by the Defenders, 151 pets died, were injured or lost on commercial flights since 2008.

In 2009, that number was 32. As of June of this year, the DOT’s already reported 36 animals dead or injured, from various ailments.

"I did read horror stories about dogs throw some sort of health fit down below the cargo area and nobody knowing," Raisovich said reacting to the number of pets involving in accidents.

Dogs and cats fly the most, but the Defenders found airlines also accommodating smaller pets like guinea pigs.

Among the pets that didn't make it was a white cat named Bastian. The airline lost her in 2010 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport because the agent who checked the pet in "failed to secure the kennel door with zip ties."

Despite the increase in pet deaths, experts maintain it's still safe for them to fly if you prepare ahead of time.

Dr. Baker says airline pressure can impact flat-nosed breeds more than others, like Boston Terriers and boxers.

"They tend of to have a lot of airway problems to begin with, so they're having increased difficulty breathing that is going to be exacerbated by travel," contends Dr. Baker.

Sedating a pet can help with anxiety. Dr. Baker prescribes a form of doggy Xanax. She cautions owners to try it before flying.

"You should be doing this at home where you can watch the pet, so you can know how they are going to behave," argues Dr. Baker.

Most pets are stored in pre-approved cages in the plane's cargo hold with passenger baggage. Temperatures there are regulated, so the animals are protected from extreme heat or cold.

During flight delays, airlines are supposed to feed pets. “If that's the case, the airline is supposed to take the food off the top of the cage and feed the pet and offer them water, but you're not there to supervise, so you don't know," said Dr. Paula Baker, a veterinarian in Austin.

Airlines require pet owners to get health certificates before flying with your animal, but it doesn’t guarantee your pet is fit to fly. The certificate is only used to make sure your pet isn't carrying a contagious disease.

Click here to read the FAA policies for pets in the cabin.

Click here for tips for pets in cargo.

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