Supermodel and international AIDS activist Maggie Rizer is mourning the loss of her family’s 2-year-old Golden Retriever, Beatrice, after the otherwise healthy dog died during a United Airlines flight from New York City to San Francisco September 3.
Though the model knew that there are always risks in transporting pets on an airplane, she and her husband went above and beyond the requirements of United’s PetSafe program, taking every precaution to make sure that Bea and the family’s other Golden Retriever, 7-year-old Albert, would be safe on the cross-country flight.
In addition to the required veterinary examination and certificate of health required by United, which showed that both Beatrice and Albert were in perfect health four days before the flight, Rizer purchased new kennels, prepared special water bowls with ice, and even paid the airline an additional $1,800 to ensure that her dogs would be cared for during the flight.
“Albert and Bea were very prepared travelers,” Rizer wrote on her blog, a blog that was in part dedicated to the late Beatrice; Rizer called her blog Bea Makes Three.
But all the preparations in the world could not prepare Rizer and her family for the tragic turn of events on their United Airlines flight — or the callousness with which they were notified about their dearly loved dog’s death.
“When we arrived in San Francisco to pick up our dogs we drove to the dark cargo terminal and on arrival in the hangar were told simply, ‘one of them is dead’ by the emotionless worker who seemed more interested in his text messages,” Rizer described in a statement on her blog.
“It took thirty minutes for a supervisor to come to tell us, ‘it was the two year old,” the grief-stricken model added.
Rizer says that she and her family, including 10-month-old son Zander, fought with the airline for hours about releasing Bea’s body for a necropsy at Rizer’s family veterinarian.
What the veterinarian discovered, says Rizer, was that at some point during the flight, Beatrice went into severe distress. Heatstroke is thought to be the cause of her death.
“She died 30 feet below us, alone and scared. Nobody was there to help her because somebody made a mistake,” Rizer said, devastated.
In a statement, United Airlines both expressed their sympathies and denied any wrongdoing: “We understand that the loss of a beloved pet is difficult and express our condolences to Ms. Rizer and her family for their loss. After careful review, we found there were no mechanical operational issues with Bea’s flight and also determined she was in a temperature-controlled environment for her entire journey.”
United says that they will conclude their review of the incident when they receive a copy of the necropsy results.
Though Rizer says that she is not considering taking legal action against United Airlines, she does feel that the company’s negligence cost Bea her life.
Rizer told People Magazine that, after losing Bea on the United flight, she will never fly with her pets again, and she hopes that her story will serve as a warning to other families. “I don’t think dogs should be treated like bags,” Rizer said. “They’re living, breathing creatures and parts of people’s families.”
“Please, don’t trust that an airline will truly care and provide safety to your beloved pet,” she continues on her blog. “At some point in the two hours that Bea was in the care of United Airlines before she died, someone made a mistake and because of that, our loving, sweet Bea is no longer in our lives.”