A series of careless mistakes by a Canadian airline suggests that airline staff are still not receiving proper training when it comes to handling pets.
Terri Pittman and her roommate, Chelsea Simon, are the owners of Cooper, a Golden Labradoodle who lives with them in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
When the two roommates flew to Jamaica for a wedding last week, Cooper was placed on a WestJet flight to Deer Lake, Newfoundland, where he would stay with Pittman’s family.
But according to CBC News, WestJet staff at Halifax Airport accidentally put Cooper on a flight to Hamilton, Ontario, about 1,200 miles from Deer Lake. Regardless of what happened afterwards, this is a mistake an airline cannot afford to make due to the extreme stress long distance trips can put on pets. Making a dog’s flight any longer that it should be could have a potentially catastrophic outcome, as evidenced by the hundreds of dogs that have died on flights in the US alone.
Cooper’s misadventure was far from over when he arrived in Hamilton at about midnight last Wednesday.
An airline staff member let the dog outside the airport for a bathroom break, only to see Cooper escape from his collar and dart out of sight. The airline then relayed the mishap to Pittman and Simon, who immediately booked a flight back to Hamilton the next day as their petrified dog ran around aimlessly in a torrential thunderstorm.
WestJet’s string of errors soon spread to social media, which turned out to play a major role in Cooper’s rescue.
"Thousands of people helped me. With all the [social media] shares, and people searching and calling,�? Pittman said. “Random people messaged me asking how they can help, and they're out around at three, four in the morning, looking around."
By 7:30am on Thursday, the roommates were getting calls from people who lived by the airport saying they had spotted her dog. Numerous Hamilton locals approached Cooper but he was so scared he just kept running, she said. A YouTube video uploaded by City News Toronto said well over 100 volunteers, including members of two pet rescue groups, participated in the search for Cooper. One of the groups contacted Dog Tales, an organization that rescues dogs and horses.
Dog Tales was about to perform an aerial search with the help of a drone just before Cooper was found at about 9am on Friday.
“He ended up in a fenced area by the airport and we had some locals here who surrounded him and made sure he didn’t leave the area,�? Hans Ashton, a relative of Pittman, told the Globe and Mail. “He was hiding behind some crates and Terri and Chelsea went up to him and he recognized them right away and came to them.�?
Cooper was wet and starving but in good health overall, Simon said.
WestJet has since apologized to the owners and covered the costs of Pittman and Simon’s flight, meals, and hotel stay in Hamilton. Airline spokesperson Lauren Stewart said: "The safety and care of pets, whether they are traveling as cargo or as carry-on, is always a top priority for WestJet, and we sincerely apologize to the pet's owner for what has occurred."
The mishap comes about two months after another airline’s careless error resulted in the death of a perfectly healthy dog.
A United Airlines agent told Kathleen Considine that the crate she booked for Jacob, her Golden Retriever, would fit on a connecting flight but was mistaken, forcing the dog to sit in O’Hare International Airport for approximately 20 hours. The dog was barely able to breathe by the time he reached his destination and pronounced dead hours later.
Like Pittman and Simon, Considine’s tragedy was attributed to a careless but hazardous mistake by airline staff.
There are many precautionary measures pet owners can take to ensure a safe flight but it seems that the first priority of pet owners thinking of putting their animals on a plane should be demanding better training for airline staff members responsible for handling pets.