Devastated woman speaks after tragic dog death in transit

Devastated woman speaks after tragic dog death in transit

In a follow up to his story on pet care, Terence Pillay finds the lady whose dog died in transit in the care of airport staff and gets to the bottom of what really happened that day.  


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Two weeks ago I brought us the story of pet care and how some people shirk their responsibility when it comes to the handling of domestic animals. I mentioned the story about the domestic worker who was attacked on her way home from work by a dog that wasn’t fenced in on a property and the errant owner who did not want to accept any responsibility for the dog.

I also highlighted the story of the woman who was relocating to Cape Town and transported her dogs on an SAA flight only to find that the dog had allegedly been left unattended in the scorching Durban heat and died of a heart attack due to respiratory distress and heat stroke, the vet’s report said.

After the show, I managed to find Nicola McIntyre because I wanted to follow up on what went wrong that day with the animal.  According to Nicola, the dog was fine when she sent it off with Pet Port, a company that handles the transporting of pets to the airport. Pet Port are, however, limited in their access to the airport and had to hand the dog over to SAA Cargo to complete the transit.

It is here where the facts become a little unclear. According to a report, the dog was kept in its pine box on a van with a canvas over it. It is unclear whether they fed the dog any water and my questions to a number of people on the ground at the airport yielded no answers.

The dog was dropped off at 8.40am, and at noon, Nicola received the call informing her that her beloved pet had died. She believes that the recorded temperature of over 30 degrees Celsius that day was a contributing factor to the dog’s death. She also alleges that the dog might have been left either on the tarmac or the warehouse with no ventilation. The vet’s report also stated that the paper at the bottom of the create was shredded indicating the dog’s struggle to flee the uncomfortable environment.

I called SAA Cargo for a response but they were unable to do a live telephonic interview. Instead, I sent them some questions and this is their response...

 *Kindly note that SAA Cargo has been cleared of any liability by SPCA Durban.

Are you aware of the incident involving a traveller’s pet that died while in your care at SAA Cargo on 11 January 2019?

Yes, SAAC is aware of this unfortunate event. SAA Cargo has been working closely with the pet travel company management and have shared all the information with them.

Do you know exactly what happened to the animal? 

Three dogs and one cat were due to depart from Durban to Cape Town aboard flight SA 2115 as was booked and lodged.  At flight loading time the ground handling company realised that one of the dogs was not well, offloaded the pet and had it returned to the Cargo facility as it is protocol.  Unfortunately, the dog passed away. The two other dogs and a cat were not affected. They travelled and landed safely at their destination. SAA Cargo has been advised that the animal suffered a heart attack and heat stroke.

 What is your protocol after you receive a pet from a Pet Travel Agency?  

The animals are moved to a holding area within the warehouse facility and are only taken to the aircraft closer to the departure time by SAA Cargo’s ground handling service provider.

Did your staff follow these protocols rigidly?

Yes, our investigation has found that there was no breach in protocols. The standard operating procedures were followed and adhered to.

What went wrong?  

SAA Cargo cannot give a clear account of what happened as the events preceding the time the dog was accepted at our facility remains unknown to us. We can, however, confirm that the pet was with SAA Cargo for a brief period only.  It was not exposed to extreme conditions. There were other pets from the same family that travelled safely to the final destination. This breed of dog has been identified as having breathing issues.  

Is your staff trained to handle animals in transit?

Yes, SAA Csrgo’s acceptance staff are trained as per the International Air Transport Association(IATA) for the acceptance of live animals and as per the pet industry standards. SAA Cargo is also fully compliant with SACAA ( South African Civil Aviation) regulations pertaining to handling and transportation of live animals.  From time to time we get ad hoc inspections from SPCA at all our domestic stations and we have always been found to be compliant.

Do any of them have a veterinary background to assist in cases of emergencies?

No. SAA Cargo does not administer any veterinary services.

Why is the family yet to hear from you on this matter? They are looking for closure.

 SAA Cargo has engaged fully with the pet travel company who has been acting on behalf of the client since the incident took place.

How many other cases of this nature have there been, say, in the last ten years?

SAAC Durban Station has been transporting all types of domesticated and other animals for a very long time. The station moves pets to various destinations daily. This is the first case of a pet passing away at this facility.

Are you doing all you can to ensure the safety of pets in transit on your fights?

Yes. SAA Cargo takes special care of all the live animals handled through its facilities. Incidents of this nature are a rare occurrence.

SAA Cargo has been in communication with the SPCA in Durban and have requested recommendations on how they can improve their services to mitigate any re-occurrence. We are also going to review transportation of Brachycephalic to prevent any re-occurrence.  While SPCA have concluded their investigation and are satisfied that there are no findings against SAA Cargo, they are supportive of SAA Cargo’s willingness to improve its processes to deal with any situation that might arise. In addition SAA Cargo has opened its doors to SPCA and other relevant authorities to conduct spot audits whenever they feel the need to. This helps SAA Cargo to always improve on its processes and provide an service to their clients.

~ Tlali Tlali | HOD: Media Relations | Office of the CEO | South African Airways

In the meantime, a devastated Nicola wants changes to be effected at the airport when it comes to dealing with animals in transit. She says it’s the only way people can rest assured that a similar fate won’t meet someone else’s pet.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there.

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