Jack the cat has now been missing for 57 days.
In mid-August, he, his kitty brother, and his owner, Karen Pascoe, were flying from New York to California when Jack’s crate “somehow” opened and the terrified cat fled into the American Airlines baggage area at JFK Airport.
In the days since then, a Facebook page was launched, American Airlines’ PR flacks lurched into action and tried to calm the brewing media storm. They must have hoped the story would die out after a few days, but that’s not what happened. Two months later, the voices for Jack are just as loud as ever and they’re growing in number.
Pascoe and many others have been wondering exactly how Jack got out of his carrier. After all, she saw an airline staffer secure the carrier door with zip ties before she left to board her flight. Now they know, thanks to monthly incident reports required by the U.S. Department of Transportation whenever there’s a mishap with an animal. Here’s what American Airlines told the DOT about what happened:
This incident occurred prior to the loading of the kennel(s) on the aircraft. The customer was traveling with 2 kennels containing 1 cat in each one. A clerk had placed one kennel on top of another on a baggage cart and the kennel on top fell and resulted in the cat escaping. The entire FIS area, where this occurred, was searched and efforts to immediately locate Jack were unsuccessful. Subsequent efforts to locate Jack have also been unsuccessful. Some of the extraordinary efforts taken by AA to locate Jack include: posting photos of Jack in key areas around JFK and local businesses, consulting with the Mayors Alliance Society to set up humane traps on the airport property, consulting with the port authority and wildlife management representatives, hiring a professional pet tracker and issuing a Pet Amber Alert.
Basically, baggage handlers loaded the cart carelessly, Jack’s kennel fell off and broke, and the poor cat fled in terror.
In the days just after Jack’s story hit the social media world, American Airlines’ response was less than stellar. Despite repeated calls to the airline, it took Pascoe three days just to get a human being on the phone. Before they knew it, American Airlines had a PR crisis on their hands — and, of course, their marketing department did exactly what you shouldn’t do in a situation like this. I work in communications and marketing, and when I saw how American was handling this,I knew that it would not end well. Basically, the airline did everything wrong: slow and underwhelming responses to Jack’s situation, trying to hide the issue by moving dialog about Jack away from its main Facebook page and into a special notes page and then not responding to any posts after September 9. Epic fail!
So what is being done to help find Jack? Even though the airline claims in the DOT report that its efforts to find Jack have been “extraordinary” — and maybe they were at the time — American’s more recent efforts seem pretty mediocre to me: the staff set up a few humane traps here and there and put out food and water dishes, but not much else.
There’s a lot more work being done by volunteer Friends of Jack.They’ve been searching the grounds, calling animal rescues, gathering money for a reward, and continuing to spread the word through social media channels. The New York Observer and the local CBS station have picked up the story. And tomorrow, Saturday, October 22, will be the second Jack the Cat Awareness Day. Volunteers will meet at JFK’s Vetport building at 4 p.m. and mobilize to spread the word to all employees and businesses at JFK Airport that Jack is still missing.
I hope someone does find Jack and that he’s still healthy — and I hope American Airlines fires its customer service managers for their negligence and their utterly lousy handling of a customer who is legitimately worried about her feline friend.
I also hope that Karen Pascoe and the 15,000-plus Friends don’t lose hope. Cats are remarkable creatures, and even one that disappears in a dangerous place can be found alive and well, months after he went missing.