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Airline Loses Family Pet

Originally Published at


ABC7 KGO-TV/DT 12-11-03


Nov. 12 2003 — Pets are an important part of the family, so you can imagine how devastated a Napa couple was when a major airline lost their dog. 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney explains.

Airlines are required to report how many bags they lose, as well as late departures and arrivals. But they're not required to report mishaps with pets. One couple says that needs to change.

Ruth Ann Swenson's dog, Shiva, has probably been on more planes than most people. Ruth Ann is an opera singer and wherever she's performing, she and her husband David take their pets with them.

David Burnakus: "It's been a lot of fun to have them with us. It's a little bit of home when you're away."

But last spring, a routine trip turned tragic. Ruth Ann and David were going to New York. As always, they flew American Airlines with their two dogs in cargo. When the plane landed in New York, Shiva was there, but the couple's other dog, Cairo, was not.

David Burnakus: "When I went to ask about it, the girl was on the phone and she just stopped and said , 'oh your dogs, one of them got away'."

There was no sign of Cairo -- just his empty cage.

Ruth Ann Swenson: "From that moment on, we don't know. We went there for four days looking for him, calling his name."

American Airlines had no answers. The airline eventually offered Ruth Ann and David $1,000 cash and $1,500 in travel vouchers. The couple was shocked to learn airlines can treat lost pets just like lost luggage.

Ruth Ann Swenson: "It's a living, breathing thing. It's not a suitcase."

Al Anolik, travel attorney: "The pet is luggage that has been shipped."

Travel attorney and author, Al Anolik, says an airline is only liable for $2,500 per bag, or per pet carrier on domestic flights. He says the stakes should be higher.

Al Anolik, travel attorney: "The airline doesn't care, because it at most has to pay $2500. That's why this type of case should be in the forefront of showing there should be changes."

But it doesn't look like there will be changes any time soon. The federal government has proposed a rule that would require airlines to report when a pet is lost or dies. But the rule has not yet passed, because it's within the jurisdiction of several federal agencies.

Ruth Ann and David say something needs to be done, now.

David Burnakus: "I think that's our real goal here. To try and find a way for a big airline, particularly American, to change their attitude about shipping animals and pets."

American Airlines said it went through "extraordinary lengths" to locate Cairo, including: coordinating with local animal shelters, searching the ramp areas, and providing ground vehicles with spotlights during some of the nighttime searches.

The SPCA has this advice, if you must travel with your pet, always take them on board. If your carrier is too large to fit under a seat, try and find an airline that will allow you to purchase a seat for your pet.

Last Updated: Nov 13, 2003