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More outsourcing from United Airlines: This time it’s pets

Aug 18, 2012 7:20 am

Skift Take

What United saves on outsourcing service to third-parties will likely need to be spent on a PR blitz this month. First they lose a child, then they deliver a near-death dog.

— Jason Clampet

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For Rachael Estes, the worst part of a two-day ordeal flying home to North Carolina from military service in Korea was being separated from her beloved dog, Livi, as it died of heat stroke in Houston.

“My dog had to have been so scared, and I wasn’t there to hold her little paw,” said the 35-year-old from North Carolina.

The 14-pound terrier mix had to be euthanized after suffering heat stroke in Houston under the care of United Airlines’ PetSafe animal transportation program.

Temperature of 108

Estes, who was returning home from military service in Korea to Charlotte, N.C., with her 5-year-old daughter earlier this month, shipped her dog and two cats via PetSafe. The cats ended up arriving in Charlotte a day after she did, but Livi had to be put down at a Humble veterinary clinic.

“The vet told me it was heat stroke,” Estes said. “She came in with a fever of 108 and was unresponsive.”

United Airlines said in an emailed statement that PetSafe was not responsible for the dog’s death.

“We carefully reviewed the details surrounding this incident, and the veterinarian’s examination of Ms. Estes’ dog showed that the death of the dog was not transit related,” the statement said.

Expressing condolences to Estes, the airline said it was reimbursing her the full cost of transporting all three animals.

On the dog’s medical record at Animal Emergency Clinic Northeast, the reason given for the visit was: “found collapse(d) in carrier — tangled up in harness, and heat stroke …”

An employee at the emergency clinic, which operates 24/7, said confidentiality rules prevented her from discussing an animal’s medical record.

Their flight rerouted

Estes, who was discharged as a staff sergeant after seven years in the U.S. Army, said she adopted Livi last year at an animal shelter on Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, where she worked as a military journalist.

She left Seoul with her daughter and the animals Aug. 3 on a flight to San Francisco, the first leg of what ended up being a 40-hour trip to Charlotte. They were headed home to live near relatives for the next year while her husband, Doug, finishes his own Army tour of duty in Korea.

The flight to San Francisco arrived too late for Estes and her daughter to make their connection to Chicago, where they were supposed to catch another plane for Charlotte. They were rerouted through Houston but had to wait hours for a “redeye” flight that departed San Francisco shortly after midnight Aug. 4, Estes said.

When they arrived in Charlotte about 4 p.m. that Saturday after a Houston layover, the animals weren’t there, and it took PetSafe employees four hours to let Estes know where they were, she said.

By that point, she was at home and received a call from someone who said the dog had been taken to a Houston veterinary clinic and the cats would be at the Charlotte Airport the next day.

“It took us trying to find (the animals) to even find out that they took the dog to the vet,” she said.

Later, Estes got a call from the veterinarian treating Livi, who told her about the dog’s condition.

(c)2012 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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