This great headline jumped out at me from last week’s breakfast table: "Stranded in Transit, These Travelers Howl, Hiss and Whinny." On the front page of The Wall Street Journal (in the gee-whiz human interest square below the fold) came this discussion of what it means to be four-legged and stranded in Europe following the Icelandic volcano eruption.
For affected humans, it’s been a trial for sure (one that’s probably over by now). But for many non-humans species, being far from home — and in an airport, no less — has proved potentially life-threatening.
Imagine: You're stuck in a box halfway to your destination, with a not-trained-for-this airport worker to walk and feed you, or perhaps ignore you should you prove to be inconvenient, unruly, or obnoxious. I’d howl my head off, too.
But it’s not just dogs and cats that have been left in small spaces, unable to reach their beloved people. It’s also farm animals, horses, and sensitive exotic species that are languishing under conditions impossibly suited to their well-being. (According to WSJ, horses, snakes, geckos, and turtles are among the cargo-class refugees.)
Paul Robinson, an American studying abroad in Slovenia, couldn’t stand the uncertainty. He trekked by car to a German airport, where a basenji named Pen had been waylaid. In an interview with WSJ, this owner summed up the situation in a way any pet person would understand:
"'He's helpless. An animal is completely at the whim of everyone else,' Mr. Robinson explained by phone Monday. ‘My worry was for his physical condition. You're never completely aware of where he is or what's going on.'"
It’s our worst nightmare. Which is why we plan carefully, or pay animal shippers high fees to get them from point A to point B as quickly and comfortably as possible. But even when pet travel was planned by professionals, there was no better outcome in this case. Again, in the WSJ:
"'I've been in business 33 years, and I've not seen anything like this before,' said Dr. Walter Woolf, a veterinarian who runs Tampa, Fla. based Air Animal, Inc., which planned Pen's trip. On Monday he said he had a dog named Trilly and a cat named Bertie delayed in the U.K. on their way to the U.S., as well as two dogs, named Figment and Prince, waiting patiently in a Belgian kennel to get from Brussels to Newark."
Hundreds of animals have reportedly been stranded, including horses that had to be pastured, dogs and cats that finally had to be boarded at nearby kennels, and 500 chameleons that are unlikely to be enjoying the temperatures they require.
So what’s the solution? In this case the only way to ensure your cargoed pets weren’t stranded was to take the same flight yourself. But that doesn’t address our more pressing fears for the non-volcano induced misfortunes some of our frequent flying pets might need to do over their lifetimes. After all, cargo is not risk-free.
Which is why, when you can’t drive to your destination, the only approach is to elect one of two options: 1. Squeeze them into the cabin with you; or 2. Fly them through a pet-dedicated airline (Pet Airways is the only U.S. pet airline). Short of airline reform for increased pet friendliness (dedicated pet flights come to mind), those are our only choices.
But sadly, even those options wouldn’t have been enough to get you past all that volcanic ash. Here’s hoping our critters finally got home over the weekend — especially all those chameleons.
Dr. Patty Khuly