All of you must have heard about the tragic case of the young French bulldog who was placed in an overhead bin on a United Airlines flight and died in it.
The facts are unclear. A ridiculous command by a flight attendant to place the puppy in the overhead? An intimidated and overwrought parent? The blame game doesn’t change the outcome.
Nevertheless, the veterinary community has been struck with outrage and jaw-drop shock at the lack of common sense exhibited by all involved. We veterinarians spend our lives fighting for the health and well-being of animals, but our days are filled with humans causing unnecessary tragedies.
An Avoidable Tragedy
The overhead bin death was a tragedy in the making on many fronts:
- A woman with a language barrier was traveling with young children and a puppy.
- The dog was young, excited, confined in a carrier and not conditioned to air travel of any kind.
- The puppy was a Frenchie, a brachycephalic breed. These breeds are prone to breathing difficulties even in normal circumstances.
- Placing any living creature in a carrier in an overhead bin is unconscionable.
Why couldn’t there have been a thinking human sitting nearby to intervene? Just like when you see a dog locked in a hot car and you search for the nearest tire iron to break into the death trap, someone should have rescued that puppy from that hot, airless, terrifying bin. So sad and so avoidable.
When Humans Are Overwhelmed
Common sense seems to go out the window when humans are overwhelmed. This is at the crux of so many doggie mishaps. If our lifestyles or time constraints become so complicated, we forget that our dogs are just waiting for us to drop the ball, so to speak.
Dogs, you might say, have a death wish and no common sense. The Lab’s goal on a Saturday is to run in traffic. The toy poodle wants to attack the doberman in the park. The Jack Russell views a porcupine as a yummy treat.
If we are too busy to stay vigilant, tragedies occur. In the past year, some of my emergencies included:
- The 10-year-old child in charge of the 10-month-old puppy in an unfenced yard: hit by car.
- The Irish setter tied out on a 2nd-floor deck: found hanging.
- BDLD: This stands for big dog/little dog fights where the big dog wins.
Unfortunately, my list could fill 2 pages.
When your life changes, have you made adjustments for the dog? Change is stressful for humans, and sometimes the dog takes an unsafe backseat.
- Your job, living situation or environment may change. Is the new situation safe for the dog?
- Life might involve more travel, either mandated or by choice. Is the dog properly cared for when you are away?
- Family members may come and go, changing the dog-care dynamic. Are all the dog’s needs still being met?
- Age of person and of dog is a naturally occurring event. Have the proper adjustments been made? Are dog and human safe?
I’ve witnessed many situations where the dog and the lifestyle are a misfit from the start:
- College frat boys acquiring mascot dog for frat house.
- Aggressive “rescue” dog brought into a stable canine home.
- Young couple travels frequently for work and adopt a dog with behavioral challenges.
- Aged parents feel responsible and take their son’s unwanted, untrained, energetic pointer.
Cultural Ideas and Poor Common Sense
Vets hear all kinds of notions from folks about what it means to “care for” a dog:
- “He stays tied up on a line all day. He doesn’t need no walks.”
- “I was brought up on a farm. We don’t do anything fancy for our dogs.”
- “I paid a lot for this pit bull. His puppies are gonna be worth a lot of money.”
- “I want to give my kids the experience of having a litter.”
- “She’s a little dog. I’m going to use pee-pee pads forever.”
- “He’s always ridden in the back of the truck. Never had a problem.”
- “I know it’s hot, but I’m just leaving her in the car for a minute.”
Dogs Should Bless Our Lives
Vets take poor common sense about pets personally. When I’m watching a disaster in the making because someone lacks common sense or seems overwhelmed, I naturally worry about the well-being of the pet. That is my responsibility.
And the ultimate solution for some people when they’ve reached the end of their nonsensical rope? The pet may suffer trauma, either emotional or physical. The person may just give up care of the pet and surrender it to a shelter. Sometimes, the person just presents that dog to a veterinarian for euthanasia. No wonder I cringe when I see a pet in a potentially dangerous situation.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, feeling like you’re holding on to good judgment or common sense by a thread, take a breath. Our dogs are not the only ones suffering when life gets crazy. We are suffering too. Our dogs want to help us, not hinder us. You take care of them, and they will take care of you.
Let them help you put the balance back in life. How about a beautiful early spring walk, for starters?
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 4, 2018.