Delta Air Lines is getting unfavorable publicity over the recent escape and subsequent death of Nala, an 8-year-old German shepherd, during a stopover at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. But this isn't the first time a dog has died while in Delta's custody. At least two other dogs also met untimely ends with the airline in the past nine months alone, and several more have taken long, unnecessary detours. Does Delta have a dead-dog problem?
What happened with Nala?
On Dec. 22, Nala's owner, Alisa Miller, put her dog on a Delta flight from San Diego to the family's new home in Frankfurt, Germany, where Miller's husband, an Army officer, is stationed. Nala apparently escaped from his crate during a stopover in Atlanta, and Miller postponed her move to spend two days looking for him; the dog was found dead Jan. 1 on the side of the nearby highway I-75. It had been hit by a car. Delta donated the $1,000 it had put up as reward money to Atlanta Pet Rescue.
How about the other dogs?
In May, Paco, a dachshund–Jack Russell terrier mix, apparently escaped Delta's custody at the Mexico City airport, and is presumed dead. And a family in Spokane, Washington, had two harrowing experiences in November. Their 6-year-old English bulldog named Guinness died in the cargo bay of a Delta flight. The next day, Delta sent their Shih Tzu on two wrong flights, meaning it took four flights and 12 hours to transport the dog. A necropsy ruled Guinness' cause of death "inconclusive," but owner Michelle Reid is livid. "We are demanding that Delta take responsibility for their actions and educate and inform their customers so no other family has to go through what we have," she says. In another case of an improperly routed dog, Delta sent an 8-month-old puppy to San Jose instead of Portland, Maine, in June.
What's Delta's response?
The airline says Guinness' death "is currently under investigation," and spokeswoman Susan Elliott says Delta takes "our responsibility of transporting our customers' animals extremely seriously." She notes that Delta safely transports tens of thousands of pets each year, and "we even have zoos that entrust us with their exotics."
What are others saying?
Delta may claim it's doing everything it can to transport the animals safely, but its "track record says otherwise," says Stephanie Feldstein in Change.org. These deaths are the ones we know about, but the airline isn't required to report most of the animals who die in its care, and given its apparent "lack of commitment to safe pet travel," there might well be more pet skeletons in Delta's closets.
Are dogs Delta's only victims?
No. One woman says her cat, Patch, mysteriously escaped in the Cairo airport before a flight to New York's JFK. Delta immediately returned the $200 airfare paid for the cat and is offering a $350 reward in Cairo, but given Delta's recent pet-escape problems, owner Michelle Evans smells a rat. "There is something going on," she tells AOL News. "I don't know what it is. But this is too coincidental. This is the same story."
Is this just a problem for Delta?
No, American Airlines made the news last August when seven puppies who died on or soon after a Tulsa-Chicago flight, possibly due to summer heat and flight delays. "Commercial airlines are not deliberately cruel or even particularly careless when it comes to shipping dogs," says the website Dog Law. "They just aren't set up to deal with pets efficiently.... To an airline, your pet is just an especially bothersome piece of baggage." It's no secret that "baggage slip-ups are inevitable," so unless your dog is small enough to carry onboard with you, "air travel is a risky [undertaking]."
Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Examiner.com, Consumerist, Change.org, AOL News, CNN, NBC Chicago, Dog Law