Air Force general apologizes after 3 in-flight pets die during removals

The four-star chief of Air Mobility Command publicly apologized to military families on Friday after three pets died during a move overseas in the past two weeks.

“We will hold ourselves to a high standard,” Gen. Mike Minihan wrote to pet owners who use Air Force-run “Patriot Express” flights to head for new jobs overseas.

“AMC is reviewing all aspects of Patriot Express pet travel, including actions beyond our responsibility, to further strengthen pet safety,” he said, calling the deaths a “unacceptable”.

The Army rushed to reconsider its pet travel policies after Kolbie, a 10-year-old Pomeranian mix from a Marine Corps family, died of heatstroke while on a Patriot flight Express on July 1 across Japan.

An Air Force investigation has so far found no evidence of willful negligence, and Airmen working at the military airport followed established protocols for transporting pets, the agency said. Air Mobility Command.

“Unfortunately, these protocols did not adequately address the extremely high temperatures and humidity Yokota experienced over the July 4 weekend,” the Air Force said.

The remaining 10 dogs aboard Kolbie’s flight from Yokota Air Force Base to Marine Corps Air Force Base Iwakuni all arrived safely at their destination, according to AMC.

Since that incident, however, two other animals have not made it to their new homes.

On Monday, the nonprofit Leave No Paws Behind USA wrote on Facebook that in addition to Kolbie, another pet had perished on another Patriot Express flight overseas.

“Military families have to carry out orders within a certain time frame. … They have to pack a house, get the kids ready for new schools, sell a car or put it in storage, and then prepare to live without suitcases for weeks or even months,” the organization said. “Pets aren’t on the military’s radar like [they] should be.”

AMC then announced on Thursday that it had learned of the death of another animal on a Patriot Express flight but did not specify where the animal was traveling.

“Animal was inside an air-conditioned terminal during the entire animal transportation process, except for a 10-minute period when the crates were loaded onto the plane,” wrote command on Facebook. “During this loading process, an airport airman noticed the dog was not breathing and initiated emergency procedures to quickly unload the crate and notify the on-call vet.”

The squadron notified the family of their dog’s death and promised to ship his remains to them.

Sixteen pets have died in Air Force custody since Air Mobility Command began transporting pets around the world in 2017. The command said it transported nearly 46,000 pets during the last five years.

Fourteen of the pets who died were dogs belonging to snub-nosed breeds, such as bulldogs and pugs, whose compressed muzzles make them more prone to respiratory problems. At least two deaths this year, including the incident announced Thursday and another dog who died en route from Guam to Alaska earlier this summer, were of brachycephalic breeds, the Air Force said.

“AMC is working diligently to improve our current procedures and policies, including ensuring service members are made aware of the inherent risks associated with transporting certain breeds and being aware of their animal’s overall health status at the time of transport. “, said the service.

The federal government has known for more than a decade that dogs with short noses are more likely to die on airplanes than those with normal muzzles, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In 2010, the US Department of Transportation found that about half of the 122 canine deaths linked to theft over a five-year period were of brachycephalic breeds, the association said.

“Due to their anatomical abnormalities, short-nosed breeds appear to be more vulnerable to changes in air quality and temperature in the cargo hold of an aircraft,” the AVMA said. “While pets are transported in pressurized cargo holds and receive much the same air as cabin passengers, air circulation may not be ideal for your pet’s individual needs (and remember- you, your dog is in a crate which could also affect ventilation).”

Minihan said it would be easy to change travel policies for military pets to match those of commercial airlines, which ban short-nosed breeds. But it would “severely and substantially restrict travel for specific races, health conditions and climatic environments,” he said.

“It would leave thousands of military pet owners with expensive and limited, if any, travel options,” the general said.

In the meantime, the Air Force allows pets in its climate-controlled terminals when outside heat reaches 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher during the busy summer season.

The 730th Air Mobility Squadron in Yokota is getting an aircraft air conditioning cart to help keep pets cool while they’re loaded onto a jet, the service added.

“Ongoing construction and altercations involving pets had necessitated keeping the animals outdoors,” the command said. “The recent completion of a new AMC passenger terminal at Yokota Air Force Base provides the space needed to house pets in an air-conditioned location. All other passenger terminals operated by the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing in throughout the Indo-Pacific region store animals in an air-conditioned environment while awaiting Patriot Express flights.

Amber Panko, owner of Kolbie, lobbied for every military installation involved in the transportation of live goods to designate air-conditioned rooms and pet rescue stations for families and their animals.

A local chapter of the American Red Cross donated towels and puppy wipes for dogs to relieve themselves at the passenger terminal in Yokota, the Air Force noted.

Still, Minihan warned pet owners to consult their veterinarian before shipping animals on planes.

“Besides the heat and stress of air travel… the health, age, breed and sedation of pets appear to be contributing factors,” he said. “Your veterinarian is the expert on these factors and should also consider the length of the trip, number of stops, number of transfers and weather conditions en route when approving and advising your pet’s trip. of company.”

Flights for pets will never be risk-free, so consider delaying their travel if necessary, the Air Force has warned.

“As a pet owner with five overseas tours, I am acutely aware of the risk, expense and extreme concern when it comes to these important members of our families,” said said Minihan. “We will continue to implement further improvements as the review process matures.”

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, The Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post, and others. .

Comments are closed.