Air Force General Apologizes After 3 Pets Die on Flights Arranged for Military Families

Dogs traveling by airplane. Boxes with live animals at the airport

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The head of the United States Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) apologized to military families after three pets died in two weeks on flights organized by the unit.

On Friday, Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of the military branch’s Air Mobility Command unit, shared a statement on Twitter affirming his commitment to pet owners who use the Air Force’s Patriot Express flights to safely move their pets. In the past two weeks, three pets have died on Patriot Express flights, which Minihan called “unacceptable” in the statement.

“AMC is reviewing every aspect of Patriot Express pet travel, including equities beyond our responsibility, to further strengthen pet safety,” Minihan said in the statement. “We will hold ourselves accountable to a high standard and will positively influence every service agency involved in the pet movement enterprise.”

“We’ve made immediate improvements such as increasing owners’ access to pets during layovers, comfort breaks, allowing pets in climate-controlled terminals, and cooling the cargo holds between loading and unloading. We will implement further improvements as the review process matures, “Minihan added.

The general stressed in the statement that pet owners must understand that “pet health, age, breed, and sedation appear to be contributing factors” to the recent pet deaths on Patriot Express flights. The response comes after a Marine Corps family’s 10-year-old Pomeranian mix, Kolbie, died from heat stroke on a Patriot Express flight across Japan on July 1, according to the Air Force Times.

While the Air Force’s investigation has not found any signs of negligence in Kolbie’s death and the 10 other pets on the same July 1 flight arrived safely, two other pet deaths have occurred on Patriot Express flights since then, according to the Times. On July 11, a nonprofit called Leave Behind No Paws USA posted on its Facebook page to report another pet death in addition to Kolbie’s, writing that “pets aren’t on the military’s radar the way it should be.”

“The family pet is PART of our military family,” the organization wrote on Facebook. “There needs to be accountability, the policy needs to change! They need to do better for these families.”

Last Wednesday, the AMC noted on its Facebook page that its investigation into the additional pet death confirmed that “the pet was inside an air-conditioned terminal space for the entirety of the pet transport process except for a ten-minute period when the crates were loaded onto the aircraft.”

An airman at the aerial port realized the dog was not breathing and “initiated emergency procedures to promptly unload the crate and notify the on-call veterinarian,” according to the AMC’s statement last Wednesday. In that statement, the unit said that 14 of the 16 pets that have died during transportation since 2017 were “snub-nosed breed dogs like the one that died in this incident, as well as a dog that died earlier this summer traveling from Andersen AFB to Alaska.”

The AMC unit has transported 46,000 pets of service members in that timeframe, according to the statement posted on Facebook.

In 2010, the US Department of Transportation found that short-nosed dog breeds are more likely to die on airplanes than dogs with longer muzzles, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Roughly “one-half of the 122 dog deaths associated with airline flights involved these short-faced breeds,” over the last five years, the association’s frequently asked questions page for air travel with short-nosed breeds reads — including 25 English bulldogs and 11 pug deaths in that timeframe.

In last Friday’s statement, Gen. Minihan urged pet owners taking Patriot Express flights to speak with their veterinarians before traveling and noted that “it is imperative you understand that the process we are improving cannot completely mitigate risks associated with certain health, breed, and sedation challenges.”

“The easy thing to do during these challenging times is to immediately align AMC pet travel policies with airline industry standards, which would severely restrict, and in substantial numbers, eliminate travel for specific breeds, health conditions, and climate environments,” Minihan said in the statement. “Doing so would leave thousands of military pet owners with expensive and limited-to-no travel options.”

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