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Airline lost dog ‘for five hours’


LIKE THOUSANDS of other British pet lovers, Kerry Shellard was happy to use the new Pet Passport Scheme to bring her Toy Poodle Millie from Spain to England without the need for her much-loved pet to go though six months quarantine.

But what should have been a straightforward journey turned into a nightmare when British Midland and Heathrow Airport officials ‘mislaid’ Millie for over five hours after the plane from Madrid had landed. Millie was extremely distressed as a result and collapsed and later died. Heartbroken Kerry then found herself locked in a bureaucratic nightmare when she tried to seek an explanation from British Midland and the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare from the beginning,” says Kerry, 31, from Bilston, West Midlands. “I arranged everything to bring Millie into the UK, getting her vaccinated against rabies, blood tested, microchipped and with all the necessary documentation. I even flew in on the same plane as she did from Madrid, but nobody can tell me what happened to her after we landed.”

On July 3rd last year, Kerry and 13 year-old Millie flew from Madrid to Heathrow on a British Midland flight. BMI are approved air carriers under the Government’s much-touted PETS Travel Scheme. Millie was held in an approved air travel container in the plane’s hold with water to drink, and was in good health upon leaving Madrid. On arrival at Heathrow, Kerry reported to the Menzes Cargo Centre, where BMI had advised her to report to collect Millie. After a very long wait, staff informed Kerry that they were not aware that there was a dog arriving on the Madrid flight and they had no idea who to contact to find Millie. After a lot of ringing around, the staff eventually advised Kerry to report to the Animal Reception Centre.

“Things went from bad to worse”, says Kerry. “I waited ages at the ARC until they found Millie and gave her to me. She was in a very distressed state and from the way she was barking, it sounded like she had a sore throat. When I mentioned this to the girl at the ARC, she simply said ‘Oh, she’s just excited.’ The flight had landed, on time, at 14.30, and Kerry finally collected Millie at 19.30.

But as Kerry was driving her home in her air-conditioned Mitsubishi Shogun, Millie deteriorated badly and was in a state of collapse. “I took her to an emergency vet. He told me that she was extremely ill and was, in fact, dying. If I took her home she would die and that, in any event, her chances of survival were only 60%”, says Kerry.

Millie spent the night at the vets in an oxygen tent, but never fully recovered from her ordeal and died three months.

“When I got home form the vets I was horrified to notice that Millie’s clean, dry bedding from her carrier had been replaced with absolutely sodden wet newspapers,” says Kerry. “When I removed them they left a pool of water. It appears that someone had attempted to cool her down, but nobody will admit to doing this.

“When we arrived at Heathrow it was a very hot day, and all in all it took over five hours to hand Millie over to me. In that time, she must have been left somewhere where she overheated, but of course no-one is admitting to this.

Neglected

“If I left a dog in a car on a hot day and caused it suffering, I would be prosecuted and rightly so. BMI and ARC neglected Millie to such an extent that she nearly died, and her health was ruined. I believe they tried to cool her down, but even though they knew how ill she was, they released her to me, rather than let Millie die in their care, due to their neglect.”

Kerry then embarked on an increasingly frustrating process of correspondence with BMI, the ARC and even the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), who have responsibility for the PETS Scheme.

“It became clear that they weren’t just stonewalling me, they were lying to me,” says Kerry angrily.

In a letter to Kerry dated 10th September, John Dowds, the Cargo Customer Services Manager at BMI wrote that “There was nothing untoward noted on the file or any indication that your dog was ill or in distress. (The Animal Reception Centre) collected the animal directly from the aircraft and kept it at the ARC until you collected it by taxi that afternoon.”

“I did not use a taxi, Millie only arrived at the ARC at around 4 o’clock that afternoon, having been missing for one and a half hours since the plane landed,” says Kerry.

In a further letter dated 2nd October 2001, Mr Dowds told Kerry that the flight was “running late due to some bad weather en route from Madrid.” In fact, the flight was not delayed due to bad weather, as Kerry remembers this very well, being a passenger herself on the flight.

Further correspondence from BMI, in consultation with the ARC, stated that Millie had soiled her bedding, which was then changed for newspapers, but Millie’s blanket, which was handed to Kerry, was clean and dry. “Wet newspapers would be used to cool an overheated dog down,” says Kerry, “but they just won’t admit to this.”

Kerry became increasingly frustrated by Mr Dowd’s explanations, so wrote direct to BMI’s Executive Chairman Sir Michael Bishop, demanding not just an explanation, but also a refund of her £220 air fare and Millie’s veterinary fees of £198.88.

Once again, she received vague and incorrect responses. The Corporation of London’s Department of Environmental Services, who are responsible for Heathrow ARC compiled a report for BMI, again questioning the fact that the dog had been held at the ARC for several hours, awaiting Kerry’s arrival and denying that the dog had been in poor health.

“I just feel so frustrated by all of this,” says a heartbroken Kerry. “I sent copies of all the correspondence to Baroness Hayman at DEFRA, but they just say that it’s all the responsibility of the carrier - i.e. British Midland - and even say that there are no guarantees that animals will be in good health at the end of their journey.

No guarantee

“Nobody will admit to the fact that they lost my dog for five hours and that she suffered heatstroke. Basically, they are trying to say that I didn’t bother to collect her in time and that she must have been in poor health when she left Madrid, which is simply not true. Had she not been fit, she would not have been allowed to travel.

“I just want other pet owners to be aware that if they are using the PETS Scheme to bring their dog or cat into the UK, the carriers and DEFRA will not guarantee that animal’s welfare. That’s a shocking indictment of the whole scheme and it’s certainly not what anyone should reasonably expect.

“ Before Millie was left in BMI’s care she was a very healthy active dog, after BMI cared for her she was a very poorly dog who slept all the time. Millie never fully recovered and suffered further respiratory problems. Sadly on 7th October Millie died after further medical problems and although I cannot prove it I know that BMI’s neglect left her weakened. Had BMI taken care of her I know she would still be here with me.”

John Dowds of BMI declined to comment, as did DEFRA.