A dog named Cup Cake was flying American Airlines from New Jersey to Florida via Texas when it ended up dead on an airport runway.

Shipped as cargo Jan. 17 from Newark to Orlando with a transfer in Dallas, the pet was in a snap-together kennel, contrary to American Airlines policy, according to a report filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

While being unloaded in Orlando, the kennel fell apart, allowing the dog to escape, the report stated.

According to incident reports, shipping animals as cargo is usually safe, but every year in the United States two to three dozen pets die in transit.

Some cases are due to airline negligence and some are due to animals’ preexisting health conditions, the federally mandated reports indicate.

In a case the Houston Chronicle reported last week, a woman flying United Airlines from Korea to Charlotte, N.C., with a stop in Houston, learned that her dog suffered apparent heat stroke after becoming entangled in its harness inside the carrier.

Houston employees with the airline’s PetSafe program took the 14-pound terrier mix to a local veterinarian, who determined that the animal’s death was not transit-related, United said.

Airlines are required by federal law to report incidents of injury, loss or death. The reports can be seen at airconsumer.dot.gov/reports.

35 deaths in 2011

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 17 animals died in the first six months of this year during transit as cargo with a U.S. airline. This figure is on a similar pace to the 35 deaths recorded in 2011, 39 in 2010 and 23 in 2009.

These figures represent tiny fractions of the animals shipped. More than 2 million pets and other live animals are transported by air each year in the United States, according to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Proper precautions

Marc Morrison, president of Animal Land Pet Movers, a pet shipping service that flies or drives animals according to client’s wishes, said the number of pet deaths related to air shipment is “exceedingly small.”

To fly animals, the company uses commercial airlines, Morrison said.

“As long as there are proper precautions in place, with 95 percent of them being common sense, it’s still exceedingly safe,” Morrison said. “We fly well over 1,000 pets a year, and in 12 years, we’ve had two incidents (deaths).”

One local veterinarian, Dr. Cynthia Rigoni, who specializes in cats, said she has assisted many clients in preparing cats for shipment and travels often with her own cats to shows.

“I’ve helped people ship cats all over the world,” she said. “I don’t think a week goes by here when I’m not doing some form of a health certificate (required for air travel). Our pets are traveling a lot these days.”

Anyone planning to ship an animal by air should check requirements with the airlines and also research tips from such organizations as the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

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

Tags: health, pets