Kitten dies after flying in cargo hold

Animal appears to have frozen to death, vet says

This undated photo shows Snickers, a kitten that died after a flight from Utah to Connecticut Saturday. This undated photo shows Snickers, a kitten that died after a flight from Utah to Connecticut Saturday. (L. Preece And H. Lombardi via AP)
By Sue Manning
Associated Press / January 27, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — Heather Lombardi paid nearly $300 to fly Snickers, an 11-week-old, 3-pound hairless kitten, from Utah to Connecticut in climate-controlled air cargo.

By the time kitten and owner united, Snickers was icy cold and could not move her head or paws, Lombardi said. The kitten died a short time later.

“I feel so guilty,’’ said Lombardi, who was flying Snickers home from a breeder. “We sat there for nearly an hour. If I’d known, I would have thrown a fit. We just sat there. We had no idea she was dying.’’

The Department of Transportation tracks animal deaths in transit, but no one keeps tabs on how many die of cold or heat in cargo holds or elsewhere, said veterinarian Louise Murray, vice president of Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, which is run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. .

Lombardi’s $289.94 cargo ticket on Delta Air Lines included $70 to make sure Snickers was taken off the plane quickly. But Lombardi said it took 50 minutes to get the cat off the plane.

Delta Flight 738 to Hartford arrived at 8:40 p.m. Saturday, when the National Weather Service said it was 10 degrees.

Delta spokeswoman Susan C. Elliott said she could not talk about specifics because the cat’s death was under investigation. “Regardless of the cause, we understand the impact the loss of an animal can have on a pet owner,’’ Elliott said.

“We are turning our attention now to offering our condolences and discussing how we can provide some kind of restitution to support her during this time,’’ she said of Lombardi.

Lombardi and her two daughters wrapped Snickers in a coat and ran for the car, where they turned on the heater and headed for the vet. Veterinarian Caroline Flower said Snickers was dead on arrival at the Connecticut Veterinary Clinic in West Hartford.

The cat was cold and bleeding from the mouth and nose, Flower said, all symptoms of extreme hypothermia. Without a necropsy, she cannot be 100 percent certain the cat froze to death, but it looked that way, said the vet.