Hot on the heels of last Saturday’s comedown (see the previous post) came an angry phone call from a client displeased with his pet’s health certificate.

This was Saturday morning and the health certificate had been issued the previous day. Unfortunately, the flight (a Delta Airlines jaunt from Miami to Salt Lake City) was a couple hours off—and it didn’t look like the dog was boarding it.

The problem? A little phrase called the “acclimation statement” which explains the temperature range at which an animal may travel. Here’s the version the USDA recommends we use on the standard health certificate form they supply for interstate and international travel (and the one I rarely deviate from):

“We have examined x pet. The pet is acclimated to temperatures that are physiologically acceptable to cats and dogs of their age and weight.”

A pretty innocuous statement, right? And that’s the problem. According to the owner, Delta Airlines would prefer one that says this pet is OK to fly at 92 degrees. And the client is telling us this NOW, well after the fact, a couple of hours before the flight (we assumed he was flying inside the cabin).

This wasn’t my patient and I didn’t issue the health certificate. Another vet (who was at that moment enjoying his day off) issued it using the standard statement above. That’s why the phone call ended in MY lap.

Yep. The buck stops here. No pet gets an OK to fly at 92 degrees. Not on my watch.

Sure, Delta Airlines is happy to fly a pet at any temperature—that is, as long as a veterinarian somewhere will sign off on it.

Other airlines? They’ll just refuse to fly pets during the day at certain steamy times of the year. But Delta? Apparently it’s OK with them as long as they’re not responsible for the pet’s health.

The extra complication in this case came courtesy of the owner’s attitude and low degree of preparation for this bit of not-so-friendly-skies travel. His perception was that we, his dog’s veterinarians, should have been prepared to produce a certificate to Delta’s exact specifications.

So you know, we vets not required to be versed in every airline’s requirements (which change with the time of flight, season of the year and corporate whims). Owners are required to know the ins-and-outs of their own travel arrangements and to pass along any non-standard needs to their vets so that we can comply [or discuss why we can’t comply] with them.

Newsflash: Flying in the belly of an aircraft (during daylight hours) from one absurdly hot city to another even more insanely incendiary locale qualifies as non-standard.

But the owner could not be disabused of his bedrock belief in our lack of professionalism and ridiculous concerns over flying a pet at 92 degrees for over five hours.

Annoyed at the accusatory turn the conversation had taken, I made a simple statement: “If you want to fly your pet under unsafe conditions that’s your problem—and Delta’s. I’ll neither grant you permission to kill your pet nor absolve Delta of animal cruelty. Just leave me out of it and let me get back to my reasonable clients.” Click.

Come Monday morning I received a legal letterheaded fax asking for $1,000—for this client’s lost time and expense over a thwarted trip out West. Hmmm…said legal letterhead ended right where most of these missives originate…the trash.