Yesterday was one of the most stressful days I have experienced in a very long time. It started well, Julie dropped River off at the airport early 2.5 hours prior to his departure time. A dog must be at cargo shipping 2 hours prior to takeoff to insure there is time to fill out all the paperwork, stick all the labels on the crate, secure the dog inside the crate with zip-ties, then drive the dog over to the plane for loading. Everything seemed to be on schedule, flights were on time, she was sent on her way feeling no great worry. Both Julie and I have shipped many dogs, so this is nothing new if not routine. She sent me a text saying he was indeed flying that day and verified I had all the important data. Arrival time was 6:05pm in Austin.
I hit the road by 4:45pm, giving me just enough time to make it to the cargo area if I took the toll roads in Austin. I arrived on time, 6:00 exactly. The lady at the Delta Cargo desk looked at me quizzically when I walked in. I said I was there for the dog arriving on the 6PM flight from Atlanta. It was pouring buckets of rain. I said “I’m sure it is likely delayed a bit with this weather, but I wanted to make sure you knew I was here”. She said “Umm, I don’t have any information about a dog, they always call me”. I said “Well, can you check the flight and see if someone forgot to let you know” and she did. No dog on the flight. I’m shocked. WHERE IS MY DOG! She doesn’t seem the least worried and says “well, I don’t know what to tell you, he isn’t on that plane”. She did not make any attempt to locate my dog, she acted as if he really didn’t matter.
At this time I break out the phone and call Julie, I get her daughter and tell her she needs to let her mom know that River is lost, no one can tell me where he is. I call Keith, who was out to eat with the kids. I explain that River is lost, no one knows where he is. Keith said he was on the way home and he would need some numbers to start working on finding River. I get off the phone and the lady turns to me and says “You can’t use cell phones in here, cell phone use is prohibited inside the cargo office”. My mouth falls open. REALLY? You guys have lost my dog and your telling me I have to go out in the POURING RAIN to attempt to locate him??? REALLY?????
I keep my calm, I’m very polite and say “Well, my dog is lost, I’m going to need to use my phone and I am not walking out in that rain. Please bare with me”. She just looks at me. I say very nicely “Can you please see if you can locate my dog. Here is the information I have. I can call myself OR you can call and that way I am not breaking any rules”. She starts pecking on her computer. In a few minutes she says “I think he is on his way to Atlanta now, it says he will arrive at 11:30 pm.” Right as she says this, Julie calls. She had been on the phone with Delta. Julie confirms River is indeed on a flight to Atlanta. Somehow he missed his 10AM flight, then he missed a second flight, finally they stuck him on the 7pm flight out to Atlanta, he was due to arrive at 9pm Eastern. After several more phone calls, Julie then asks if I wanted him to stay overnight in Atlanta at a boarding kennel OR let Delta attempt to get him on the 10PM eastern flight to Austin. Airlines do not like to transfer dog to another plane with only 1 hour lay over, but because this was a “special” situation, they would try. Well, according to the lady I was standing in front of, he was already booked for that flight. I told Julie I wanted River HERE, I would stay in Austin as long as that took. My trust in Delta was shot and I wouldn’t leave a dead hamster in their care overnight unless forced. Julie agreed and called her 1-800 number contact back to confirm River was to aim for the 10PM flight to Austin.
By this time I’m getting pretty shaky. I had not eaten, it was 7:00 and I had left the house at 4:30 with no stops. I spoke to my cargo employee and asked her for her name and a direct phone number so I could contact her in a few hours. She reluctantly gave me her number and her name after she stated it was against policy. I explained the weather was an issue, I was afraid there might be some delay, and I didn’t want anyone thinking I was not going to be there to get my dog. I told her the overall plan. He might be on the plane to us or he might not make that flight and he would have to stay over night in Atlanta. She looked down at her computer and said to me “We close at 12:30am” and I said “well hopefully he won’t be late. If he arrives at 11:30 we should be fine, right?” She said it took 30 minutes to unload the plane, she might not have the time to get him. She was firm that she locked the doors at 12:30 no matter what. I’m on the verge of tears at this point. I asked her where I would find my dog if she couldn’t get him. Baggage claim was her unemotional answer. I politely asked her for that number as well, just in case I needed to call them and attempt to figure out a way to carry a 500 extra large dog crate and dog across an international airport to my parked car by myself at 1AM in the morning, and I walked out.
Keith calls me when I made it to the car and you guessed it, I totally lost it. I can barely speak through my sobs and he tells me to go get something to eat, to give him the direct number to my Cargo person, and that he would handle everything. I ask him not to do anything that would make working with this person difficult. I won’t have some person mistreating my dog because he went off on her. He assured me he could handle this, it wasn’t a problem and he would not cause any issues. I know my husband, if anyone could manage this person it was Keith.
I head to the nearest place to eat. Hypoglycemic is so much FUN! I don’t do well with low blood sugar on a good day, much less a bad one. I needed food fast, even if it wasn’t the best food.
Around 7:30PM Keith calls me back. He spoke to a very helpful gentlemen who assured him that they would make sure River was on that plane and set us up with email updates every time River’s bar code was scanned. Julie also called and gave me the name of the lady she was working with, who said she would also call as soon as River made the flight… or didn’t.
I eat my greasy burger in my locked car and kill time listening to a book on tape, trying to decide what had gone wrong. I have flown dogs many times. Oh you hear about horror stories, but I’ve never had it happen. How could the ball be dropped so very badly? Was there anything that could have been done differently? Yes, there were a few things that would happen in the future, IF my dogs ever fly again. First I will insist on the email update every time the bar code is scanned. I won’t have to call and hope I get someone just to ask if my dog actually made it on the plane. I’ll know if their code gets scanned. I’ve never had this offered to me as a shipper or receiver, but you can bet it will absolutely happen from here out. Next, I will never use Delta again. Fool me once, shame on you. I won’t be a fooled twice. I can understand there being a problem, but no contact is unacceptable. Had they called and said he missed the plane, fine. These things happen. Julie could have picked him up and we could try again another day. Leaving my dog crated for 16 hours for no reason is cruelty.
At 9PM Central (10 Eastern) I get a phone call from Julie’s contact that River is indeed on the flight to Austin. Julie then text me to ask if I spoke to her contact and I get an email stating River’s bar code was scanned plus a phone call from Keith confirming all of the above. River is alive and he is on his way. Now I just have to wait.
Airports are never in the nicest neighborhoods, by this time I had to find a restroom that wasn’t sketchy and preferably not in a place where I would robbed and shot. It was full dark, the clouds were breaking up with no rain in sight. The seeder aspects of Austin were coming out of the woodwork in full force. After 30 minutes of driving I found a clean Burger King to relieve my bladder, stretch my legs and walk Jazz, who came along to keep me company. Jazz is a wonderful girl, not a peep out of her the entire time and she helped cheer me up with her silly nature.
10PM: I get a call from my local cargo lady. She was polite, empathetic, seemed truly concerned about River. She said that his flight was due to arrive early, at 11:05 and that she would drive over at that time and wait for them to unload him. She would try to have him back at the cargo area by 11:20 at the latest. Well… seems she doesn’t need an hour to get a dog to the cargo area. I thank her, tell her I really appreciate the call, and praise her for going above and beyond. Then I smile. What DID Keith say to her??? If you have spent time with my husband especially in a work environment, you will know he has people skills. I’m sure what he accomplishes it can be learned to some degree, but to move people the way he does takes something extra. To me it is a super power I will never have, magical in nature.
I sit for another hour outside the Delta Cargo area and play with Jazz. That funny girl was set on making me laugh, she kept leaping out of the back of the van over my head, then bouncing back in to the van and doing a ‘bow’ in my lap as I giggle hysterically from both fatigue and relief. No, I didn’t have River yet, but I had a good idea he would be ok even if he had to pee in his crate. It would be ok and Jazz was providing an excellent stress outlet.
I was waved over to the cargo platform at 11:20 by an excited women. She had my boy!! River was ok but she wanted to give him some water. I let him out of the crate and happiness exploded. Wiggling, bouncing, joyous black poodle was whirling around me. The Delta cargo worker broke down. Tears rolled down her face and she said “Oh my, oh he missed you so much! I can’t believe how happy he is to see you. I’ve never seen a dog so happy before” and she turned away. I told her I needed to walk him before we did anything else, that I was sure he bladder was going to explode. He did not pee in his crate. A few drops had hit the floor during his happy dancing, I didn’t want to make him wait any longer. After a quick potty break we returned to sign the paperwork. I was given a piece of paper by my new friend with a number written on it. She said “I just want you to know that we at Delta take pet transport very seriously. I have written a number down for you to call and explain exactly what happened to this lovely dog. Hopefully we can make sure no other animals are lost in such a way again.” As she was saying this, my beautiful boy was standing calmly beside me tail wagging and acting like nothing at all was amiss. All was right in the world and he was just happy to be out of the crate and standing next to me. I thanked her for all her effort in helping me get River, let her bask in the glory that is a well bred and socialized Standard Poodle, then packed up our things and left.
I’m sure you are wondering what Keith say to this women? He told me he called her up and in a very concerned manner asked her why his wife was sitting in her car crying. Why was no one helping her? Why was a living, breathing creature, that needs food, water, and a place to poop and pee being treated like a package? What could he do to help them help his wife. He asked he if she could help, that I was alone up there, while he was at home with the children 2 hours away. He would pack up the kids and drive there if needed, but maybe she could help, make things smoother. I’m not sure why River was lost, but I did see a change in one person last night, a change for the better. Someone who was bitter and closed off let some emotion show, let her barriers down. Hopefully she saw that there are nice people out there even when bad things happen to them, they are not unreasonable or confrontational. Maybe she saw how her own actions can make a difference. I’m sure her job is thankless and boring. Hopefully she took home a little light last night, in the form of a happy poodle memory.
I can tell you, it will be a birthday I don’t forget for a very long time. Happy Birthday to ME! I have my River home!
Jazz and one tired River