After the saga of Jack the Cat, who went missing at JFK Airport this summer, I think we could all use a cat-lost-in-airport story with a happy ending. Now, thanks to an airline, an airport, and a pet detective, we’ve got one.
On December 3, a woman flying from Tucson to Seattle with her cat, Wenty, went to pick up the cat from the baggage claim area and received a closed but empty pet carrier instead.
I’m sure Jack’s story must have weighed heavily on her mind as she began the search for her missing cat. The next day, she found the website for the Seattle-based Missing Pet Partnership (MPP) and asked them for assistance.
There were four places Wenty could have gotten lost: the airport in Tucson, the baggage hold of the Alaska Airlines plane in which the pair flew to Seattle, and the ramps and baggage area of Sea-Tac Airport. MPP mobilized a crew of volunteers and a cat detection dog and contacted Alaska Airlines to seek permission to search its hidden infrastructure.
Not only did the airline grant MPP full access to the baggage areas and ramps (accompanied by an Alaska Airlines supervisor, of course), but they were even willing to dismantle equipment if necessary to get Wenty back to her caretaker.
But the airline went even further than that: When MPP asked to search the plane on which Wenty had flown, they were willing to ground it when it got back to Seattle late that night and find a replacement aircraft so the the search team could take as long as they needed to look for Wenty in the baggage hold and any other nooks and crannies.
Kat Albrecht of Missing Pet Partners wrote in her blog that although Karma, the cat detection dog brought in by the crew, did catch a faint whiff of cat near an Alaska Airlines conveyor belt, the dog’s response wasn’t strong enough to justify pulling the machine apart. The team searched for three and a half hours but failed to locate Wenty.
But early on Monday, December 5, something wonderful happened. Because Alaska Airlines had alerted staff at all other airlines about Wenty, everyone was on the lookout. When a United Airlines employee spotted a pair of white paws under a baggage carousel, he got down on the floor and was able to catch Wenty.
After a trip to the emergency vet for a checkup, the greasy and thirsty but otherwise healthy cat was reunited with her owner.
Now that’s the way an airline should respond when they lose a passenger’s animal companion. If American Airlines had done the same thing, Jack would still be alive.
Given, Sea-Tac is a much smaller airport than JFK. Given, Alaska Airlines is a much smaller airline than American. And given, Seattle has a much more laid-back and open-hearted “vibe” than New York. (Full disclosure: I love Seattle so much that my cats and I are planning to move there — by car, of course.) But still, Seattleites are busy; employees at Sea-Tac don’t exactly have hours to sit around and update their Facebook pages, either; and even small airlines have rigorous schedules and requirements in order to get their passengers from Point A to Point B. In spite of all this, they made the time to do all the right things.
Maybe Alaska Airlines learned a few things from American’s string of bungles in Jack’s situation, or maybe they would have stepped up and done what needed to be done anyway. But whatever the case, I’m delighted that Wenty will be home for the holidays and that it took less than three days to find her, thanks to the diligence of pet detectives and an airline that was willing to go the extra mile — many extra miles, actually — to get a passenger reunited with her precious four-legged friend.