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AFA Responds to USAirways Ferret Deaths
February 10th, 2001

The American Ferret Association addressed the following letter to US Airways and filed an official complaint with the USDA. The original article detailing the tragedy appeared in the Evansville Courier. The USDA has sent a brief but hopeful response to our complaint, and US Airways has also responded to our concerns.


USAirways
Corporate Office
2348 Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22227

To whom it may concern:

The American Ferret Association has been inundated with calls and letters regarding the young ferret kits left to die at the Evansville Regional Airport (see attached article).

There were many disturbing elements in this incident. Chief amongst our concern is that this shipment of baby ferrets was not tracked correctly. At the very least, they should have been checked at the temporary facility to assure the availability of water and food. Furthermore, it is our understanding that these kits were very young. Perhaps your company should institute age or weight restrictions for the shipment of ferret kits. Animals above eight weeks of age would have a better chance of surviving the stress of transport.

Public reaction within the ferret community has been one of complete outrage and disgust, not only with regard to the ferret's deaths, but also for the manner in which their bodies were thrown into an airport trash bin. Rather, your employees should have notified local Animal Control authorities for investigation and disposal. To add insult to injury, company spokesman, Steve Wilson, deferred all comments to the corporate office without comment. David Castelvetter, another company spokesman, referred to this as simply "an unfortunate event," a pathetic euphemism for the pain and suffering inflicted upon these young animals. In addition to your cavalier commentary, Vicki Kavanaugh, director of the Evansville Animal Control, stated this was an "isolated incident."

While this may have been an isolated incident in Ms. Kavanaugh's jurisdiction, it is a cold fact that other animals shipped from mass-producing breeders to pet stores have suffered similar fates. The breeders and airlines regard them as "replaceable" or "the cost of doing business." If these poor animals had been someone's personal pet or expensive show dogs, surely a lawsuit would have been filed. Because they were just a "commodity," humane care and concern for their welfare was entirely absent. Without a doubt, a portion of the blame rests on the pet store to whom the kits were being shipped. It was their responsibility to be in constant contact with the breeder and the airlines, and they failed in this obligation. The delay in shipping should have been reported to you at once.

The persons who have read about and commented on this incident to the American Ferret Association have indicated to us that they will be boycotting your company. We are extremely distressed that your public statement seemed to lack concern and compassion, and that you have not indicated what, if any changes, will be instituted to prevent future occurrences.

In order to make our voice heard and to lobby for improvement on your part, we are lodging a complaint with the USDA at the Animal Care's Eastern Regional office.

In closing, the domestic ferret is the third most popular interactive pet in the country, right behind dogs and cats, and recent studies indicate that over 3 million ferrets are now kept as family pets. The popularity of ferrets and the continued demand for ferret kits will mean millions of ferrets will be transported via airlines from breeders to distributors. Their safety is in your hands. Our website at www.ferret.org has presented this issue to our many site visitors. We request that you advise us in your response of what changes have been made in your procedures to assure that this will not happen again. We will be more than happy to make your reply known.

Sincerely,

THE AMERICAN FERRET ASSOCIATION

Gail Suzanne Burlaka
Member-at-Large
on behalf of the American Ferret Association


The USDA Responds
February 14th, 2001

Dear Ms. Burlaka

Thank you, and the American Ferret Association, for forwarding your concerns regarding the recent US Airways incident. Animal Care has requested a formal investigation into possible violations surrounding this shipment. I will advise you of the results of the investigation as soon as possible. Investigations like this one frequently take several months in order to develop a complete case file. Please be assured that we will take appropriate action on all Animal Welfare Act violations.

Betty Goldentyer, DVM
Eastern Regional Director Animal Care


US Airways Responds

Dear Ms Burlaka,

Thank you for your letter of Feb 9 concerning the shipment of baby ferrets to our Evansville airport. I appreciate the opportunity to respond on behalf of US Airways.

Let me begin by exressing our sincere apology for this tragic incident. We are equally disturbed about the mishandling of this shipment.

In-depth investigations by US Airways and Animal Control determined that our agents failed to adhere to some of the system wide procedures. To ensure an incident of this nature does not occur in the future, we have reminded our staff of the procedures and will monitor for compliance.

Ms. Burlaka, we realise safe animal shipments are our responsibility. This is not something US Airways will take lightly. Our goal is to comply with our established procedures and live up to the high expectations of mass-producing breeders, and family pet owners concerning the safe and humane transportation of live animals.

Sincerely,
Deborah Thompson