By Michelle Sherrow
The last time that John and Julia Von Achen saw their beloved dog, J, alive, they were boarding a flight from Moscow to New York. When the Von Achens disembarked, they discovered that their dog had apparently frozen to death in the cargo hold during the 11-hour flight.
"He's part of our family. I'm heartbroken, devastated, destroyed," said John Von Achen Jr. "They killed our dog." Freezing aside (which can happen when temperature controls fail and external temperature at altitude can be -50 or worse), animals are in grave danger in plane cargo holds, but boxers, bulldogs, and pugs like J are at an especially high risk since their short muzzles make breathing difficult under any even slightly stressful or abnormal circumstances. Putting an animal in a cargo hold is often a death sentence, as they can turn into freezers in the air and, during delays on scorching summer days, into ovens on the ground, causing death from heat prostration. It happens all the time.
"It seems the airlines are not equipped and they're not really set up to handle pets, but they take the money anyway," Van Achen said, adding, "I'll never fly with a pet again."
J was far from the first dog to perish in a cargo hold, and he won't be the last. If you are planning to travel with your animals over the Thanksgiving holiday or at any time, please keep their feet safely on the ground and travel by car or, if they are small enough, fly them in the cabin with you.