Yesterday, I wrote a post about a woman who was suing Delta Airlines in the aftermath of a debacle… she had used their Pets First service to have 11 French Bulldogs flown to her in Utah from Hungary. The adult dog arrived deceased at SLC; the 10 puppies were ill and 2 died sometime soon after. The woman, Barbara Burgett, is now suing Delta Airlines and its subcontractors; her suit does not name any specific charges, but on her blog (Dogs vs. Delta) she suggests that several different laws concerning the proper treatment of animals in transit were violated.
I wrote the post after speaking with Barbara personally for about an hour. She seems like a nice lady – mother, grandmother, says she gives to Best Friends (in southern Utah) and has rescued many animals. She said she and her family were planning to “lightly” breed the dogs. I took her at her word, even though – as someone who is concerned about how many animals we euthanize in the U.S. every year – I’m not a big fan of many of the people who breed dogs. I do believe in “breed preservation” – but frankly, from what I understand, if you’re interested in preserving a particular breed of dog, you already own that dog and have been participating in breed-specific activities (e.g., dog shows, agility, etc.) long before you decide to breed. I’m not sure that was her situation. But that was a tangent… What was clear was that no matter why they were coming to the U.S., these dogs did deserve to be treated well on their way here – they did not deserve to die of heat stroke on the flight. Or to become seriously ill because of their time on the plane.
After I posted this piece, and shared it with the Jack page on facebook, I was surprised at the response. Many people questioned the truth of the story… FoJ Cara Jordan put her concerns the most clearly: “ Can we remove this story until more facts are received. its extremely vague and really, with everything going on regarding Jack, I’d be super careful of putting other unsubstantiated cases [before] us! My family have used delta for some time, and I have NEVER had a problem. Although I think problems can and DO happen, this story is far fetched and I’d hate for this wonderful site to forego any repercussions for posting such an unbelieveable story!”
I obtained copies of the documents Ms. Burgett filed with the court, as well as responses from Delta and the other defendants. No one asked the court to dismiss the case – which is what they would have done if there were any question about the basic facts. So I feel confident asserting that this isn’t just some lady in Utah making libelous statements against Delta.
But… even though I am confident in saying that based on what I know about this situation, Delta clearly did not treat these dogs as “precious cargo,” I am still not completely comfortable with this case. Why? Because there was a problem even before these dogs were ever put on the plane.
Here’s the premise on which the whole story rests: Barbara Burgett was BUYING these dogs. They were to become her PROPERTY – their ownership was to be transferred to her because she was willing to pay for them. It seems she was willing to pay alot of money for them – something around $20,000. And she was buying them from someone who clearly made it his BUSINESS to buy and sell dogs!! She says on her blog, Dogs vs. Delta:
Prior to purchasing the dogs, I took the following responsible steps and precautions. I contacted the American Embassy and had them do a back ground check on the person selling them, and to help in finding an interpreter. The background check was clean, and there were no complaints or legal actions of any kind against them. After deciding on an interpreter, I then contacted several veterinary hospitals in their area to inquire about them from the vets perspective (dog care practices etc), and none of these places had any complaints or knew of any complaints. I then contacted four people in the USA that had purchased dogs from this person, and they all said there dogs were healthy and great, and had also arrived healthy. I traveled to see a son of Hector’s, he was beautiful too and the owner had no complaints about this seller either. So, I proceeded forward and over the next six weeks, made arrangements to purchase my dream dogs.
So here we have a situation where one person (in Hungary) who views dogs as mere property to be bought and sold (and has been doing this for some time) is now SELLING the dogs to another person who also views these dogs as property to be bought and sold… and then, of course, Delta is going on to treat the DOGS AS PROPERTY because airline cargo, is by definition, property. Cargo is not passengers.
And the saddest thing is, ALL ELEVEN OF THE DOGS PAID A STEEP PRICE because they were viewed as property. Three paid with their lives.
Barbara Burgett says on her blog, “I know that no one that has a love of animals/dogs would ever attempt to make this incident about where the dogs came from, or, how much they cost…”. Indeed, why would it be necessary to make an issue of their origin if they were treated with the care and respect they deserved from the beginning? Who cares where a loving creature comes from?? I have many friends who have adopted children from other lands – China, Peru, Slovakia. Adopting a child from another country is an expensive proposition – I’ve heard of people spending upwards of $50,000 to adopt, including travel expenses. But it’s about LOVE… and that is reflected in their behavior, not in the money spent!!! IN NO CASE have I ever heard of a child being put on a plane from that other county and flown to the U.S. alone. The new parents – the people who have made a commitment to care for this little bundle of love for its lifetime – go to the new country and meet the child and bring him or her to their home.
Of course, no one would go to such lengths to obtain a purse they saw on the web that they thought was really spectacular. They’d just have it shipped.
And that is what Barbara Burgett did. And that is what the seller of the dogs allowed.
Because both of them saw the dogs as property. Not as sentient beings who deserve respect and appropriate care in every moment of their lives.
Barbara says she was willing to pay a vet tech to fly with the dogs, but that wouldn’t have gotten them out of cargo. Why wasn’t she willing to fly herself to go get the dogs? Or fly with 10 family members to go get the dogs? Or even just fly 11 Hungarian vet techs – one with each dog – to Utah to bring the dogs to her?
Barbara says she loves her dogs. And I believe she does. But… but but but. The fact that she was willing to BUY them – and to then use them to breed, and I assume make at least some money from them – means that she does, on some level, see them as her property to do with as she pleases. The shipping is just an incidental outgrowth of the belief that the dogs are property.
Her thinking is not unusual. It is THE NORM. In fact, it is the basis of how animals are treated in the U.S. legal system.
But this thinking does not respect the animal as a conscious creature with its own thoughts and feelings, and which has the right not to suffer needlessly . That is the definition of a “sentient being.”
For me, treating our animals with respect as the sentient beings they are comes down to acting within a simple basic principle – if I wouldn’t allow a toddler to have a particular experience (e.g., flying in cargo), I wouldn’t let my dog or cat have that experience.
True enough. Karen made a HUGE mistake – one that can’t be taken back. And one that she will never make again. But it was just that – a mistake. It was not a mistake on top of a mistake… like the one Barbara Burgett made. And if Ms. Burgett is breeding these pups (who are now 4 years old), I would argue she is piling mistake on top of mistake on top of mistake. All because of the belief that animals, at base, are property.
Until we change our thinking about dogs – and cats, and all of our companion animals – situations like this are going to keep happening. There will be a hundred thousand more “breeder dogs” killed on planes without our knowledge. A thousand more Jacks will be lost in airports, the search for them minimal if it happens at all. Countless Toshas and Nahlas will bolt from their crates – some will be lucky and be found safely, others won’t.
So I send love and light out to Hector and the pups who died, and to the 8 survivors… yes, you were treated wrongly in your journey. But, my dear little furry friends, there were problems before you ever got on that plane…