How Maggie Rizer’s Tragic Loss Will Help Save Other Dogs

When I was catching up on my PEOPLE news a couple days ago, I ran into the headline about the passing of model Maggie Rizer’s dog, Beatrice. How did Beatrice pass away? From heatstroke she suffered as a passenger in the cargo hold of an airplane during a routine flight. My heart instantly broke for this woman I don’t even know.

Sadly, animal loss, injury, and tragic death are not as rare as airlines would like us to believe. Every month pets transported in the cargo area of commercial airplanes get lost, get injured, or, like poor Beatrice Rizer, die. How do we know? Fortunately, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century requires the federal government’s Department of Transportation to be transparent about the loss, injury, or death to animals in the care of commercial airlines during transport by issuing a monthly consumer-friendly report. (A draw back, though, of the report is that it does not include the total number of animals that travel each month so measuring the frequency of losses, injuries, or deaths in the context of the number of animals traveling monthly are not possible.) In September 2012, there were two injuries reported on Alaska and Delta Airlines and one loss on American Airlines. A month earlier, two deaths were reported: one death on Delta Airlines, one death on United Airlines. While these numbers may not be staggering, imagine if this were your pet. Imagine if you were Ms. Rizer.

As nice as it would be for airlines to (finally!) admit that flying a living, breathing being in cargo is not safe, that’s probably never going to happen. Considering United Airlines, at the time this article was written, had not even admitted error to Ms. Rizer, we can be sure that any liability admitted by an airline in United’s position would only come in a conference room or court room, if at all. Consequently, it’s our job to educate each other as fellow dog owners, as Ms. Rizer is doing, about the dangers of flying your pet as cargo. Just don’t do it.Ever.

So, what are people who need to transport their pets long distance supposed to do? Drive all the way to your destination. Sorry, friends. This answer may not be popular or convenient but your dog’s life is worth it. If you are financially constrained by that option, or carless, contact a rescue group or helpful shelter in your community to explore transport options. Since social media exploded in the rescue community, long-distance transports are being arranged across-and-around the country every day by legitimate transport coordinators. Let’s put the airlines out of the pet transport business by eliminating the demand for this service.

If you’ve ever flown your dog cargo, your dog could have been Beatrice Rizer. If you’ve ever thought it was safe to fly your dog cargo, think of Beatrice Rizer. Then, cross airplane cargo holds off your approved Ways to Transport Your Dog List. It’s just not safe.

Jessi Freud is a dog advocate who has been volunteering with rescues and shelters for nearly 10 years. Most recently, she was a volunteer news writer for Best Friends Animal Society and an active volunteer with Texas-based shelter Austin Pets Alive! This fall, Jessi begins her first year in law school where she plans to get involved in the world of animal law. Follow her on Twitter at @Canine_Advocate.

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