Forty-six dogs died traveling on commercial airlines in 2011, according to the Department of Transportation, as reported by the Huffington Post. In 2010, it was 39. If those numbers seem high, they should. We didn’t realize the numbers were so high until supermodel Maggie Rizer’s Golden Retriever died earlier this month on a United Airlines flight, and the story hit the Internet like a thunderbolt.
By all accounts, Rizer — a Vogue covergirl and a model for Calvin Klein, Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, Clinique, and Louis Vuitton — loved her 2-year-old Golden Retriever named Bea. The dog was the titular hero of Rizer’s blog, Bea Makes Three, which chronicled the life of the model, her family, and her three dogs.
Rizer’s most recent and final post is titled, simply, “United Airlines Killed Our Golden Retriever, Bea.“
In it, Rizer details the circumstances of Bea’s death, which occurred on a United flight from the East Coast to San Francisco, along with United’s actions after the dog was discovered dead.
According to Rizer, Bea and the other dogs were well prepared for the flight. To her credit, Rizer seems like the very definition of a responsible owner. She writes:
“Beatrice had a perfect health record. She received a full examination and a health certificate four days before the flight, as is required by the Pet Safe program. This program is United’s branded on-board pet safety program. In addition to Pet Safe’s stringent requirements, we took every extra precaution we could think of. Both the dog’s kennels were labeled front to back with emergency numbers, flight information, and warnings. Their kennels were purchased specifically for the measurements and design specified by Pet Safe. We purchased special water bowls, which we filled with ice to ensure that the water wouldn’t spill and that it would last longer. We drove the six hours to New York City from our house in Northern New York state, so the dogs wouldn’t have to make a connecting flight. We paid United Airlines $1800.00, in addition to our plane tickets, to ensure the safety of our pets. Albert and Bea were very prepared travelers.”
Yet, when Rizer arrived in San Francisco and made her way to the cargo terminal, a worker told her that one of her dogs had died. What’s more, he told her the dog had been sent to a local vet for an autopsy — an outrageous lie, it turns out, by a company looking to save its skin:
“Over the next two hours the supervisor’s lie unraveled as it became clear that Bea was right behind a closed door the whole time, and he had been discussing how to handle the potential liability with his boss who had left and sticking to the divert-and-stall tactic that they had been taught.”
Having recovered Bea, Rizer took the dog to her own vet for an autopsy. William Spangler performed the necropsy (a dog’s autopsy), and determined that the dog had died from heatstroke. “Our little Beatrice died in pain, scared and alone,” writes Rizer.
Dr. Spangler also told her that “in my experience it is not unusual for a single dog in airline transit to be affected while other dogs of the same breed survive the trip apparently unscathed.”
United officials apparenly believe that this fact — Bea was the only dog who died — cleared the airline. Rizer writes that United informed her that “our internal investigation does not show any irregularities, as evidenced by the fact that your companion dog and other animals on board did not suffer the same fate.”
Rizer claims she does not want to sue United or have people boycott the airline. She just wants people to know the dangers of flying with their pets.
“I am writing this to help make people aware that airlines are incapable of ensuring the safety of our pets,” she writes. “All it takes is for one employee to not follow the proper procedure and then like me, your dog is dead.”
“I can’t say exactly what happened to Beatrice on the plane two weeks ago. If United had been able to be honest, it would have helped us to find closure. All I know is what the necropsy told us, Beatrice died from heatstroke.”
“It is said to be an agonizing death.”