Dog Dies on United Flight

A Golden Retriever succumbs to heatstroke en route to S.F.
By JoAnna Lou, September 2012

Maggie Rizer, best known for gracing the covers of Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, has made it her mission to get the word out on the dangers of flying pets.

Two weeks ago, Maggie was traveling from New York to San Francisco with her two dogs. Tragically, Bea, her two-year old Golden Retriever, did not make it through the flight, despite Maggie taking every possible precaution. She chose United Airlines for their Pet Safe program, got the necessary pre-flight health clearances, bought special kennels, and even drove six hours from their vacation home to New York City so the dogs wouldn’t have to make a connecting flight.

According to Maggie, the United employees showed little compassion for Bea’s death and even lied to her about the whereabouts of Bea’s body while they figured out how to handle the liability. United’s internal investigation claims that they did nothing wrong since none of the other pets on board died. Maggie’s veterinarian claims otherwise. He performed an autopsy and concluded that Bea died of heatstroke—a horrible and preventable death.

Flying with pets makes me very nervous and hearing about Bea is heartbreaking. This story also comes at a time when many of my friends are flying with their dogs to agility nationals in Colorado. Some people are able to drive, but many live too far and can’t take the days off from work to be able to do so.

Maggie took every precaution that I would have taken to ensure her pets’ safety. I’ve heard good things about the Pet Safe program, which was adopted by United Airlines when they merged with Continental. This tragic story just shows that no matter how good an airline’s pet program is, flying animals in cargo will never be 100 percent safe. It’s a shame that there isn’t a safer alternative to travel with pets on major airlines (specialized companies like Pet Airways don’t cover all areas of the country). I know that there are challenges for accommodating pets on planes, but I hope one day that airlines will figure out a way where pets can fly safely.

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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