Archive for Sunday, November 3, 2002

Rule could help flyers on pet-handling blunders

November 3, 2002


— More than three years later, Gordon Anzalone still gets choked up when he talks about Enzo's last flight.

Anzalone last saw his pet boxer alive on July 1, 1999, when he turned Enzo's portable kennel over to TWA employees for a flight from St. Louis to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to visit his son's family.

Between the time the TWA flight pushed back from the gate at Lambert Field and the time it landed in Florida, Anzalone said, the excessive heat in the cargo compartment of the Boeing 727 had gotten the better of Enzo.

"When we got to Florida, the pilot was waiting for us," Anzalone recalled. "He said, 'I have some bad news for you. Your dog didn't make it."'

Anzalone asked, "He is back in St. Louis?"

No, the pilot told Anzalone. Enzo was dead.

It was only after stories detailing his suit against TWA appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on local radio stations and ultimately CNN that he heard from other pet owners who related similar experiences they had had with airlines.

Now the St. Peters, Mo., resident hopes that a long-awaited airline reporting rule will help others avoid his family's pain. Passed by Congress more than two years ago, it would force airlines to report monthly to the government on pet-handling mishaps.

In turn, those reports would be made available to consumers.

The proposed rule is now being circulated for public comment by the Federal Aviation Administration. The comment period was extended to Dec. 27 at the request of airlines and others who wanted more time to study the rule.

For its part, the airline industry stands by its pet-transportation record and says stories like Anzalone's occur far less frequently than many animal-rights groups have claimed.

Here are tips for traveling with pets:Avoid times of the year marked by extreme heat or cold.Some airlines will allow you to carry a smaller pet onto the plane with you.Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and must be weaned.Make sure kennel meets minimum standards for size, strength, sanitation and ventilation.Attach to the animal 24-hour instructions to the kennel for feeding, watering and administering medication.Health certificates are generally required and must be issued by licensed veterinarian.

But Anzalone whose suit against TWA was settled and dismissed by the two parties in March said he never would have let Enzo fly if he knew what other pet owners had gone through with airlines.

TWA, which has since filed for bankruptcy, initially denied the Anzalones' allegations in court papers. What's more, the airline said its maximum liability was $1,250 per ticketed passenger.

There have been other high-profile snafus involving pets on planes.

Two months ago, a California couple filed a suit against Air Canada and others alleging the negligent handling of their brown pet tabby, Fu, on a flight in August of last year from Toronto to San Francisco.

Lori Learmont and Andrew Wysotski say their cat escaped from a badly damaged carrier. The airline-approved plastic crate had a big hole in it and the door was open and hanging by a hinge. They are seeking $5 million in their suit.

An Air Canada spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the airline would "confine its comments to legal proceedings."

Learmont and Wysotski spent numerous weekends looking for their cat at San Francisco International Airport but never found her, Learmont said. They have set up an informational Web site.

"We are doing this as a life mission to get the word out," Learmont said. "It is ridiculous and terrible what is going on. It is disgusting. We want to put a stop to this."

Nicky Westhead said her two English setters weren't injured or lost, but when she and her husband took a Continental Airlines flight from Texas to Atlanta five years ago, they could hear the dogs barking the whole time.

"No parent would ever put their children in a situation where you could hear them crying for two hours and couldn't do anything about that," said Westhead, who wrote the FAA in supporting the new rule.

Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, urged the FAA to move forward with the reporting requirement "as quickly as possible."

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