Thinking twice: Four-legged friends and airplane flights - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Thinking twice: Four-legged friends and airplane flights

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

If you are moving cross-country or overseas, it can be a dilemma about what to do with your pet. Thousands of dogs and cats are transported successfully by plane, but every year government records show some are injured, lost and even killed during air travel.

Michael Jarboe lost his dog "Bam Bam." He took the 3-year-old mastiff from Miami to San Francisco with a stop in Houston last year.

Jarboe spotted his dog while looking out the plane window on the tarmac in Houston. It was a scorching summer day, and knew something was wrong.

"We had a direct shot and could see, he was so hot and his tongue was hanging down. Never have I seen him that hot," recalled Jarboe.

When he landed in California, Jarboe never expected what happened next.

"A whole bunch of them came out and said, 'I'm sorry, he didn't make it.' It's so surreal because I said, 'What do you mean, he didn't make it?' We just put him on and he was fine."

Bam Bam was one of 29 pets to die during air travel in 2012, according to Department of Transportation records.

Twenty-six were injured that year, and one was lost. Over the past six years, more than 300 pets traveling on planes have turned up missing, injured or dead.

The Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Services is responsible for investigating a pet death during air travel.

"The investigations that take place after an incident are minimal. There is almost no government resources allocated to this," said Mary Beth Melchior.

Melchior, who lives in Miami, became an advocate of pet safety on planes when a close friend lost a cat at JFK airport. "Jack" the cat was missing for 61 days, and then died a few weeks later from health problems.

The story exploded on social media, so Melchior decided to launch the website Where is Jack as a tribute to the cat, and clearinghouse for information on safe pet travel.

"The airlines basically feel like they are never at fault," Melchior said.

Dr. Walter Woolf is a veterinarian who operates Air Animal Pet Movers in Tampa. For decades he's safely moved thousands of pets all over the world.

He says moving pets on planes is safe, as long as the pet is healthy enough to fly and is not sedated.

"You've got some groups lobbying against it, but given the nature of people wanting to move from point A to point B, the demand is there. So we're going to see pets on airplanes," Woolf said.

FOX 13 followed two cats he was hired to move overseas named "Honey" and "Dexter." Woolf picked them up in Tampa and dropped them off at air cargo at Tampa International Airport.

The cats traveled from Tampa to Atlanta on the first leg of the trip, then three more flights before landing safely in Manila.

Woolf made sure they were cared for on the long journey and during layovers. The cats' owners were thrilled they made the long trip without any problems.

But some people who deal directly with commercial airlines, like Michael Jarboe, are not so fortunate. Bam Bam's death is still under investigation, and he'll never forget what happened -- how his pet may have suffered.

"You sit here thinking, is he waiting for me the way he did at the kitchen door? It's so hot, that he's thinking, in a minute he'll come, just sitting there and being a good boy," Jarboe added, wiping away a tear.


If you fly with your pet, what can you do to hopefully ensure nothing goes wrong?

  • First off, it's best for your pet to be next to you on the plane in the cabin. You can do that with small animals and service dogs; other animals have to ride in the belly.
  • You want to make sure they are medically checked out and not sedated.
  • Non-stop flights are best -- less can go wrong.
  • Avoid hot summer days or freezing temperatures in the winter.
  • Buy a good crate so they can't escape, and microchip them just in case they do.
  •  Don't be afraid to be a pain in the neck to protect your pet.  Be active; ask questions.

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